“Some stories have me shooting it out with the Commies from a foxhole over in Frozen Chosen. Pork Chop Hill stuff. Hell, I barely qualified with the M-1 rifle in basic training.”
The son of a Rear Admiral and a descendent of Robert E. Lee, Robert Duvall was in a position to achieve great things from the day he was born. He was a self-described Navy brat, and moved whenever his father received a new posting. Despite the lack of stability, his early life was relatively peaceful.
After graduating Principia College in 1953, Duvall decided to follow a path similar to his father’s and enlisted in the U.S. Army. During his time in the Army, Duval leveraged his passion and took up acting. While stationed at Camp Gordon, he acted in plays such as “Room Service.” Later, due to his having served during the years of the Korean War, the media would often misunderstand his participation during the fighting. He left the military after two years of service at the rank of Private First Class.
Upon returning to civilian life, Duvall used the G.I. Bill to fuel his passion for acting. He moved to New York and enrolled in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in 1955. He was classmates with other future stars such as Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and James Caan. During his time at school, he supported himself by working the register at Macy’s, sorting mail, and driving trucks.
It didn’t take long for Duvall to snap up acting jobs in numerous plays. He found work in at least five shows in 1955, and many more in the ensuing years. He continued to act on and off Broadway well into the 70s. His television debut came in 1959 in an episode of “The Jailbreak,” and he made guest appearances into the 60s. Duvall’s portrayal of Boo Radley in the 1962 production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” signaled his break into cinema, and kick-started his rise to fame.
Duvall’s acting career has been prolific and includes a broad range of roles. His military experience came into play for a number of rolls in his career, including his portrayal of Maj. Frank Burns in “MASH.” One of his most famous roles was Lt. Col. Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now,” where he delivered the famous line, “Charlie don’t surf.” Over the course of his career, Duvall has been nominated for six Oscars and won one of them in 1984 for Best Actor in Leading Role for his part in “Tender Mercies.” Duvall has accumulated numerous other accolades, and continues to act to this day.
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