“Probably More To Him Than Meets the Eye”

British actor Alec Guinness on 1953 standing in front of a MkIX Spitfire on the set of “The Malta Story”, where he is playing the part of Pilot Officer Peter Ross of the Royal Air Force in World War Two. One of the reasons Guinness was so successful playing the role of a British officer, winning the Oscar for portraying a British colonel in Bridge Over the River Kwai, is that Guinness served in World War Two as an officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He commanded a large landing craft during the Normandy Invasion.

A young Royal Navy officer cadet finished his training and came before a group of retired Admirals who were to pronounce on his fitness to be an officer. Before going into his interview, this young officer candidate had seen a friend from his theatre days who advised, “Nothing to worry about, just act the part.”

One can imagine three fusty old Royal Navy Admirals looking over this young man who was, of all things, an actor and hardly a famous one. Said the various admirals: “Navigation not too good…Mathematics very poor…Gunnery marks are appalling.”

Yet his young man had stage presence about him which would serve him well in years to come. His name was Alec Guinness. His demeanor was enough to make him an officer. Across his interview sheet, the senior Admiral wrote, “Probably more to him than meets the eye.”

After receiving his commission as an Acting Temporary Probationary Sub-Lieutenant and being fitted for his new officer’s uniform, Guinness wrote to a friend, “I look terrifically dandy in my uniform. And nearly faint with excitement and pride when saluted in the streets…It’s a pity I don’t know anything about the sea.”

David Lean (left), who won an Oscar® for directing “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” is shown here with Best Actor winner Alec Guinness (center) and Supporting Actor nominee Sessue Hayakawa (right). Guinness won the Oscar for his portrayal of British Colonel Nicholson while Hayakawa was nominated for his role as Japanese Colonel Saito in the 1957 war drama, which also was named Best Picture at the 30th Academy Awards®.

[Source: Blessings in Disguise by Sir Alec Guinness and In Which They Served: The Royal Navy Officer Experience in the Second World War by Brian Lavery (four stars). Image courtesy of the Friends Reunited and Doctor Macro.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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