A Tale of Two Movie Stars

SAN DIEGO — Petty Officer 1st Class Erin Stapleton serves as navigation plotter during special sea detail. Stapleton is responsible for determining the ship’s position and ensuring safe navigation as the 378-foot cutter transits through San Diego Harbor. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Ensign Brian Sattler)

When Chris and I were stationed in southern California (he was aboard the cutter Hamilton and I was at the Group (now called Sector) LA-Long Beach, one of my collateral duties involved assisting the Motion Picture Liaison Office and the various film and television productions that involved Coast Guard characters and assets. The liaison officer would also bring in writers on an irregular basis to bounce script ideas against the reality of how certain things happened, or to “see what a female officer looks like.” More frequently, we were helping out with the production of Baywatch. (I’ve met a lot of Baywatch lifeguards, and none of them ever looked like David Hasselhoff.)

The Coasties you see in Baywatch episodes largely come from the crew of the patrol boat Point Bridge (since decommissioned) and Station Los Angeles-Long Beach. The director told us once that he preferred to use Coasties in bit parts because, “when I tell you to go to point x and say this line, you go to point x and say the line. You don’t ask what your motivation is, or worry about whether your best side is showing.”

The Support Center at San Pedro is often a convenient site for filming, including the Guantanomo Bay scenes for A Few Good Men. It was also the basing site for the filming of the opening scenes of Clear and Present Danger.

When A Few Good Men was being filmed, a blanket order went out to all personnel at units on the base: no one was to look at Tom Cruise. In fact, not only were we not to look at him, we were to turn our backs. Maybe looking at him interfered with the brain waves from Theta or something. A lot of people who were excited to catch a glimpse of a major movie star were instead left with a sour taste in their mouth. I’ve heard similar stories from Navy colleagues about Cruise’s demands during the filming of Top Gun.

Clear and Present Danger was a big deal for the service. There was a great deal of consultation between the film’s crew and the Coast Guard to ensure technical accuracy, far more than ever before. There was excitement about seeing some of the cast, but since actual filming was done at sea, there wasn’t much opportunity.

Late one afternoon, after the end of the workday, two gentlemen approached the quarterdeck watch of the Hamilton and asked if it would be possible to get a tour. It was Harrison Ford and his bodyguard. The duty crew were delighted to give him a full tour. Ford asked good questions and showed a geniune interest in the lives of the crew aboard such a ship. He signed autographs for everyone, and then left on foot. Chris missed the whole thing, having left just 5 minutes before Ford arrived. Noooooooo!

Both may be action stars. Only one is a guy I’d like to share a beer with.

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