Every year thousands of young men and women board buses going to Hollywood or some military base or camp in the hope of fulfilling their dream. Some just don’t make it. Whether or not they crack into the movie industry or the military machine, or drop out of LA or basic or boot doesn’t tell the whole picture. Not everyone is going to make it and many find out that life is unfair. Some get into making unsavory choices and a new generation of dreamers keeps the buses coming. For every big movie star there are 1000 busboys or waitresses reading scripts and waiting for a part, for every Marine there are 1000 queuing up for a turn to be a Devil Dog. Should we teach our kids to quit pursuing their dreams? No, what kind of parent would we be? A sterile, cold robot that doesn’t instill hope, resilience, passion and vision along our child’s journey? Per ardua ad astra; through adversity to the stars my friend. Teach them to go after what is difficult yet teach them how to deal with failure. Life is a series of fights and not a singular battle. There are many wars, with many fronts; whether it’s Hollywood or Ft. Leonard Wood I hope we raise productive citizens that believe nothing can get in their way. I hope they do some things in life with a certain amount of gravitas and a reverence for the good who paved the way before them. Instill hope in your child to become whatever they want to be-doctor, Marine, roofer, police officer, coach. Teach them to fight, to be relentless. Ask them what they want to be and then teach them as much as you can to prepare them to go after it.
All of that being said, it’s been nearly 40 years since the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman” came out. Here are a few interesting facts and my observations about the movie. The movie was directed by Taylor Hackford from a script by Douglas Day Stewart and in my opinion it still holds up. The movie is more than just about a budding romance between a local town girl and a young man trying to get on a different path in life. The singer John Denver was offered the role of character John Denver but he turned it down because he thought it read like a “1950’s movie”. He was correct in that the story was simple, but the beautifully acted movie makes the romance story engaging and believable.
The story, as you may recall, is about a loser of a man searching for a better way of life. Richard Gere plays character Zach Mayo, a man who wants to be an Aviation Officer. His path to success is not made easy because he’s been circumventing the system, by lacking in humility and exploiting his team mates for profit. He also seems too focused on the local girl he met. He therefore catches the attention of Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, played by actor Louis Gossett, Jr. Foley has seen Mayo’s kind before pass through the gates of the training group, and he is ready to get rid of him, or make him into a worthy leader. It’s of minor interest to note that actor Richard Gere told Barbara Walters that he did the movie strictly for the money.
A few other interesting facts have come up since the movie came out. Director Taylor Hackford insisted Gossett stay in a condo 20 miles from the movie set for the duration of the shoot. Gossett noted, “The purpose of the forced separation,” he wrote in his memoir, An Actor and a Gentleman, “was so that I could intimidate my men more during my scenes.”
Actor R Lee Ermey was the technical advisor for an Officer and a Gentleman. Years later, he went on to play a drill instructor in the movie Full Metal Jacket. Ermey advised Gossett to use the now famous line, “Steers and queers” to great effect. Some people even thought Emery stole the line from Gossett. Just a few of the actors offered up the role of Zach Mayo but turned it down: Dennis Quaid , Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, Eric Roberts, Ken Wahl, John Travolta and even Jack Nicholson. It was Richard Gere who finally got the role and he did a great job as a self-serving recruit hustling the other AOC candidates by selling them shined boots and belt buckles, and just plainly looking out for himself. Mayo learns some very hard lessons in life on what it takes to be a leader. He learns that to be one requires personal honor, courage and commitment.
Though not stated, Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley is a Vietnam War veteran, which is shown by his medal ribbons which includes: Bronze Star with combat device V, Purple Heart, Navy Marine Corps Combat Action, Navy Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, Navy Marine Corps Meritorious Unit Commendation, Marine Corps Good Conduct with 3 bronze stars, Marine Corps Expeditionary Ribbon, National Defense Service, Vietnam Service with 3 bronze stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon.
Richard Gere said that he and Louis Gossett, Jr. were specially trained for the karate scenes. In a 2013 interview he stated that he had apparently mastered his karate moves, but Gossett reportedly continued to struggle with them after being trained. Gere accidently kicked Gossett in the groin during filming. Gossett didn’t come back to the set for two days, and a trained Karate master was used as a stand-in for the final scenes.
It is a Navy tradition for newly-commissioned officers to give a silver dollar to the person who gives them their first salute. Notice the scene and you can see them giving Foley a silver dollar prior to each salute. There is another tradition for the Drill Instructor to place a silver dollar of his memorable students in his right pocket. Foley placed Mayo’s dollar in his right pocket and not his left pocket as he did with the other graduates. The film was a box office success. Gere became a major star. Gossett’s won an Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman—the first supporting actor Oscar to go to an African American man. If you get a moment, take a look at this spell-binding film.
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