It’s not uncommon when meeting a famous actor to expect them to be a lot like their movie/TV personality. But actors have many have made names for themselves that were a big 180 from what the public saw.
As the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz, Margaret Hamilton instantly became the foundation of many a children’s nightmares. Green make-up aside her screeching laugh, and immortal threating words to Dorothy “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” have constantly placed her character in the top ten of many great movie villains lists.
Off-Screen: Ironically for someone who created a diaper filling persona, Margaret Hamilton loved children and was a kindergarten teacher before she became an actress. For the rest of her life after Wizard she would go to great lengths to explain to children that the Witch was a part she played and not really her, although she also signed autographs with a WWW (Wicked Witch of the West) recognizing the part that gave her the most fame.
As the leader of the Three Stooges for over 30 years Moe Howard was remembered as the bully of the group, eye-poking, slapping, hammering any Stooge who displeased him. He also got the Stooges involved in many get rich quick schemes that would often backfire with hilarious results.
Off-Screen: Moe Howard (born Moses Horowitz) was a quiet and gentle man off screen who spent much of his time playing bridge and playing with his children and grandchildren. In fact he was so horrified to learn that many children had injured themselves copying his eye-poking routine he regularly went to schools to show kids how it was safely done making many of them feel like they had learned a magic trick. Financially Howard was a shrewd investor in Los Angeles real estate which made him very rich. He actually took a part of his fellow Stooges paychecks and invested them, making both Larry (Fine) a compulsive gambler, and Curly (born Jerome Lester Horowitz, his younger brother who he lovingly referred to as “Babe”) a compulsive partier and womanizer, financially secure for the rest of their lives.
As Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott on the original Star Trek TV series and 7 of the Trek movies, James Doohan was one of the first Trek actors to embrace the fame the show brought him and was always a sought after and popular speaker at Trek conventions. He seemed to exude the jovial nature of his character and always made fans feel like having a drink with him.
Off-Screen: For starters he was Canadian, not Scottish. He had a knack for accents early in his stage acting career and he became so identified with his Scotty accent he rarely spoke in public or gave interviews without using it. He was also a decorated combat veteran who landed at Juno Beach on D-Day with the Royal Canadian Artillery. A day after the landing his unit came under heavy machine gun fire while stuck in a mine field and Doohan was seriously injured, including losing part of the middle finger of his right hand, something that can been seen in a few of the original series episodes.
A classic Hollywood beauty, Hepburn was always know as a classy demure character in such classic films as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sabrina. Born to and English banker and Belgian countess, Hepburn retained an aura of sophistication that garnered her 5 Oscar nominations and one win, Roman Holiday, 1953.
Off Screen: Despite being born to privilege and a giving vast amounts of money and time to humanitarian causes, Hepburn was quite balsy in her youth. Vacationing in Holland as the German Army overran the country in 1940, she joined the Dutch resistance, at age 11. Be trained as a dancer she performed in ballets that were used to secretly fund resistance activities. But she didn’t leave it at putting on a leotard. She would often pose as a Dutch school girl picking wild flowers in order to guide downed Allied pilots to safety. An activity that would have gotten her shot in occupied Holland. And she managed to do all this before she turned 16!
He created one of the most indelible television characters ever Archie Bunker, the beer drinking, cigar smoking, blue collar everyman who wasn’t afraid to let anyone in earshot know what he thought about, “pinkos”, minorities and democrats. For eight seasons millions tuned in to hear what ignorant thing Archie would say, or how it would get him in trouble, and how he would be comforted by his loving wife Edith (Jean Stapleton) who he called “Dingbat.”
Off Screen: Carol O’Connor was actually more liberal than his co-star Rob Reiner’s character Mike “Meathead” Stivic. He was an early supporter of civil rights and an opponent of the US involvement in the Vietnam War. He actually requested of the shows writers that Archie’s prejudice be toned down in later seasons.
One of the most iconic American film stars of all time. Usually playing roles of the All-American Hero in westerns and war movies, John Wayne is what many around the world considered the personification of America. On screen Wayne did little to alter this vision in such classic moves as The Sands of Iwo Jima, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, and Hondo.
Off Screen: Wayne had a far from myopic view of the world or politics, in fact they were often complex. A vocal conservative Republican, he spoke at the 1968 Republican Convention, he none the less felt the US should give up control of the Panama Canal to Panama. And despite being labeled racist for the actions of his characters that often killed large numbers of Indians, Mexicans, and Japanese, all three of his wives were Latino.
Considered America’s, if not the worlds’, greatest actor Humphrey Bogart made a career out of playing street wise cynical characters that lived mostly by their wits and trigger finger. In classic films like Casablanca, Key Largo, The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen, Bogart played a man’s man who got the job done, rules and etiquette be damned.
Off Screen: Bogart was quite well read despite being pretty much self-taught. His closest friends were often writers and intellectuals; he rarely spent his leisure time with other actors. He would often choose friends based on their knowledge of literature and could quote from memory, Plato, Ralph Waldo Emerson and thousands of lines of Shakespeare. He also became an accomplished chess player.