Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
This is Matt Damon in character as super spy Jason Bourne. In real life Matt doesn’t go so much for guns.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Matt Damon is one of the most successful actors in Hollywood. He is 52 years old and has already starred in 85 movies. Google claims his net worth hovers around $170 million.

In general, I like Matt Damon’s movies. Elysium was great, as was, of course, Saving Private Ryan. Interstellar, The Martian, and the Ocean series never get old. And then there was Bourne.

Damon just nailed that one. He played a conflicted amnesiac assassin who, throughout four full-length films, traveled the globe gratuitously killing strangers while trying to discover who he really was. Matt Damon did a superb job of taking Robert Ludlum’s magnificent words and translating them into something we could experience on the big screen. I’ve seen them all several times. 

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
Matt Damon got pretty jacked for his last Bourne outing. In real life, it seems he’s more a lover than a fighter.

Action Hero

As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon comes across as quite the bad man. His close combat skills both with weapons and without are pretty epic. Heck, he once killed a dude with a rolled-up magazine. Alas, however, that’s all just fake make-believe.

Out here in the real world, action movie star Matt Damon has little use for such stuff as private gun ownership. While interviewing in Australia, he was quoted as having said, “You guys did it here in one fell swoop and I wish that could happen in my country…It’s wonderful what Australia did…And nobody’s rights have been infringed, you guys are all fine.”

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
The Australian gun confiscation is held up by many on the Left as an example we should follow. I’m not so sure that would work over here.

Damon’s Idea Of Freedom Smells Fishy

In 1996, Australia enacted sweeping gun control legislation that allowed the government to confiscate 650,000 guns from private citizens, effectively disarming most of the Australian populace. I spent some time in Australia soon thereafter back when I was a soldier. The Aussie gun nerds in uniform with whom I worked were mightily lamenting the irrevocable demise of their liberty.

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We sell more guns than that in America every two weeks. It’s apples and oranges, Matt. Gun control in the US might have worked 350 million guns ago, but that ship has sailed.

My point is simply that Matt Damon is pretty typical. Most of those tough Hollywood studs are Big Government anti-freedom Leftists. Damon, for his part, is a committed supporter of the Democratic Party, having personally hosted a fundraiser for Elizabeth Warren. Mark Ruffalo (the Hulk) and Chris Evans (Captain America) are even farther Left. However, it was not always thus.

Origin Story of Sterling Hayden

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
Sterling Hayden’s was a familiar face on screens both large and small during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Sterling Hayden starred in 59 films and 18 television programs. By all accounts, his was a fabulously successful Hollywood career. However, throughout it all, he was quick to explain that acting was just a means to an end for him. Sterling Hayden climbed up onto the big screen just to support his limitless adrenaline addiction. He started young.

Hayden was born Sterling Relyea Walter in 1916 in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. His dad died when he was nine, and his mom remarried. His stepdad, James Hayden, formally adopted him and changed his name to Sterling Hayden. He dropped out of school at age sixteen to take a job crewing an oceangoing schooner. He traveled all around the Americas from New London, Connecticut, to Newport Beach, California. Along the way he ran a charter yacht and crewed a steamer to Cuba and back eleven different times. His first Captaincy was the square rigger Florence C. Robinson. At age 22 he commanded the Robinson on a 7,700-mile voyage from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Tahiti.

Newfound Success

Upon his return from Tahiti in 1938, Hayden had his photo fortuitously taken while participating in a Fisherman’s Race. This image ended up on the cover of a magazine and was seen by an executive for Paramount Pictures. That earned him an invitation to screen test for the movies. 

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
Paramount marketed Sterling Hayden as a Norse god. That’s got to do something for a guy’s ego.

Hayden stood 6 feet 5 inches tall and reliably filled a room. He got the part without really trying. Paramount later marketed him as “The Beautiful Blond Viking God.” 

Hayden had this to say about his newfound success, “I was completely lost, ignorant, nervous. But the next thing I knew, Paramount made me a seven-year contract beginning at $250 a week, which was astronomical. I got my lovely old mother and bought a car, and we drove to California…I was so lost then I didn’t think to analyze it. I said, ‘This is nuts, but, damned, it’s pleasant.’ I had only one plan in mind: to get $5,000. I knew where there was a schooner, and then I’d haul ass.”

Sterling Hayden Goes To War

And then the world came unglued. With World War 2 looming large, Sterling Hayden abandoned Hollywood and enlisted in the Army. He was deployed to Scotland for training but suffered a severe ankle fracture and was medically separated from the military. He then returned home and tried to buy a schooner. However, he was unable to raise the cash.

Many guys who had been legitimately injured in military service might have just called it a day. However, that’s not the way Sterling Hayden was rigged. Once his ankle healed, he enlisted in the Marine Corps under an alias, apparently to avoid being tied to his previous injury. 

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
The famous actor Sterling Hayden blossomed at Paris Island during WW2. His performance there eventually earned him a commission and an invitation to join the OSS.

A Strange Promotion

Hayden actually thrived at Parris Island and went straight from boot camp to Officer Candidate School. Once he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Hayden got a curious call from Colonel William “Wild Bill” Donovan. At the time, Donovan carried the misleading title, “Coordinator of Information.” With FDR’s backing, Donovan eventually birthed the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). The OSS was the precursor to today’s CIA. Sterling Hayden had just become a spy.

Still operating under the nondescript alias “John Hamilton,” Sterling Hayden–ship’s captain, shadow warrior, and movie star–was deployed to the Mediterranean to take the fight to the Nazis. And this he did…for the next three years.

Hayden lived and worked in enemy-held territory. He captained a motor launch running weapons, supplies, and ammunition to Yugoslavian partisans serving under Tito. Hayden parachuted covertly into Croatia to help organize resistance cells. He fought the Germans and Italians during the Naples-Foggia campaign and organized partisans into rescue teams to repatriate downed Allied fliers. By the end of the war, Hayden was a Captain.

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
This guy doesn’t look much like a Greek fisherman to me. Regardless, he successfully pulled off that role for years avoiding the Nazis while working as a spy during WW2.

American Silver Star

Now appreciate what that meant. This towering 6 foot 5 inch giant of a man masqueraded as a fisherman, running guns under the noses of the Nazis for years. He didn’t wear a uniform. At any moment he could have been discovered, captured, tortured, and killed. He earned the Bronze Arrowhead Device for parachuting behind enemy lines in combat. Josip Broz Tito recognized him with the Order of Merit for exceptional valor in action. He earned the American Silver Star for gallantry. The citation for the award read in part, “Lt. Hamilton displayed great courage in making hazardous sea voyages in enemy-infested waters and reconnaissance through enemy-held areas.” Wow. What a stud.

After the war, like so many millions of American veterans, Sterling Hayden came home. His wartime service overseas left him with a deep love and appreciation for his country. During one press conference, he said, “I feel a real obligation to make this a better country – and I believe the movies are the place to do it.”

Short Stint As A Communist

After having served so long alongside communist partisans in combat, Hayden came home with a bit of a soft spot for the Reds. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, this was an unpopular place to be politically. He briefly joined the American Communist Party but soon became disillusioned and left. He eventually testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, this time as a reformed communist. He later said, “The FBI made it very clear to me that, if I became an ‘unfriendly witness’, I could damn well forget the custody of my children. I didn’t want to go to jail, that was the other thing.”

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
Hayden’s General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove became one of his best-known parts.

Hayden found plenty of work in Hollywood. Some of his movies were better than others. In 1956, he starred in The Killing directed by Stanley Kubrick. This low-budget outing became a respected classic and eventually landed him a big part in Dr. Strangelove as the warmongering Air Force General Jack D. Ripper who tries to end the world. Throughout it all, however, Hayden acted just to pay the bills. 

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
All the big flashy stuff Sterling Hayden did in Hollywood was just a vehicle to get him a boat and the freedom to exercise it.

Sterling Hayden Traveled The World

He eventually landed that schooner, The Wanderer, and used it to travel the world on the proceeds from his movies. After a particularly acrimonious divorce wherein he was awarded custody of his children, Hayden scooped up his four kids and struck out for Tahiti, defying a court order in the process. Eventually, he remarried and fathered another two sons.

READ MORE: Dr. Dabbs – Donald Pleasence: Art Imitates Life

Like most folks who hit it big, Hayden grew introspective later in life. He eschewed Hollywood, for the most part. He came out of retirement to do Dr. Strangelove as a favor for Kubrick. Whenever he described himself in his later years he claimed to be a sailor or writer rather than an actor.

The End For Sterling Hayden

Eventually, Sterling Hayden developed prostate cancer. That’s an eminently treatable condition today, but back in the early 1980’s, we did not have nearly so many good tools. He ultimately succumbed to the disease in 1986 at age 70. 

3-Will-Sterling Hayden: Sailor, Actor, Viking, Spy
Sterling Hayden had everything the world might offer at his fingertips. However, he willingly traded it all for seclusion on the high seas.

Sterling Hayden was married to three different women. He traveled the world, faced death countless times, and then channeled a little bit of that extraordinarily manly life into his many movies. The Beautiful Blond Viking God was a Renaissance Man indeed.

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  • Rick March 19, 2024, 7:19 am

    Interesting piece. Thanks.

  • Elmer Fudd March 18, 2024, 8:20 pm

    Damon was a Member of Team America World Police Film Actors Guild (FAG) and Hayden was a Commie. I’ll take the Commie over the FAG in combat. Neither would be my friend in real life.

    Good read, thanks.

  • Ronald A Brandon March 18, 2024, 1:32 pm

    As for Matt Daman on his stance on guns, a liberal mind has a mental disorder. And he fits the part. —–Ron Brandon.

  • Dry gulched March 18, 2024, 12:17 pm

    2 stories that show just how much American men have fallen. Matt Damon couldn’t carry Hayden’s jock strap.

  • willy w March 18, 2024, 11:27 am

    A few years ago I read an article about Hayden and his SW registered 357 mag.
    A gift from a relative when he went to war.
    A real handgun for a real warrior.

  • Ray Flaherty March 18, 2024, 9:03 am

    Simply a great story. Thanks.

  • Mark March 18, 2024, 8:22 am

    A while back I saw an interview with Hayden on youtube where he stated that his one regret was that he named names to the house unamerican committee. I don’t think he completely abandoned his red ideology. And saying Hollywood movies can make this country a better place is absurd. It’s usually the opposite. But he did serve his country with honor and spoke his opinions openly. Never subversively.

    • Kane March 18, 2024, 10:43 am

      Intresting, you have found another piece to that communist puzzle that does NOT quite fit. Hayden seemed like an awesome American with a great military record and honest patriotic values. Of course, I have a problem with his statement of regret that you describe. He could have said that his greatest regret was joining the communist party, that very same political movement that killed an incalcuable number of innocent people. Nope, his thoughts were elsewhere.

      The German Bund was investigated and many of those members lost their reputations and careers but history does not treat any of those Americans with the least bit of sympathy. So here you have Hayden regretting that he betrayed people that betrayed America. Why did Hayden cave in to the investigation? One of the reasons he had pointed out over the course of his life, just like many others who testified, was because he would lose his acting career. So what? Fortune and fame? Why should fortune matter to a communist? Would not the fame of political martyrdom be the best role of an actors life? John Wilkes Booth thought as much. I could never find any book on Hayden to shed light on the baffling questions of a Marine serving in the ET WWII under the OSS (the overtly communist CIA) with the brutal partisans of Tito. .

      Another reason Hayden talked was because he said he would have been seperated from his family. Plenty of people were seperated from their families under communism. I was born into an America that had long been unified by the vast majority of the citzens being opposed to communism. Slowly that America has changed into something else. A Great Christian America ruined to a great extent by the clever hate propoganda of the left in Hollywood

      Now, another great betrayal is unfolding in America.

  • Jim Brown March 16, 2024, 12:50 pm

    If you enjoy reading fact based espionage thrillers, of which there are only a handful of decent ones, do try reading Bill Fairclough’s Beyond Enkription. It is an enthralling unadulterated fact based autobiographical spy thriller and a super read as long as you don’t expect John le Carré’s delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots.

    What is interesting is that this book is so different to any other espionage thrillers fact or fiction that I have ever read. It is extraordinarily memorable and unsurprisingly apparently mandatory reading in some countries’ intelligence agencies’ induction programs. Why?

    Maybe because the book has been heralded by those who should know as “being up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”; maybe because Bill Fairclough (the author) deviously dissects unusual topics, for example, by using real situations relating to how much agents are kept in the dark by their spy-masters and (surprisingly) vice versa; and/or maybe because he has survived literally dozens of death defying experiences including 20 plus attempted murders.

    The action in Beyond Enkription is set in 1974 about a real maverick British accountant who worked in Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) in London, Nassau, Miami and Port au Prince. Initially in 1974 he unwittingly worked for MI5 and MI6 based in London infiltrating an organised crime gang. Later he worked knowingly for the CIA in the Americas. In subsequent books yet to be published (when employed by Citicorp, Barclays, Reuters and others) he continued to work for several intelligence agencies. Fairclough has been justifiably likened to a posh version of Harry Palmer aka Michael Caine in the films based on Len Deighton’s spy novels.

    Beyond Enkription is a must read for espionage cognoscenti. Whatever you do, you must read some of the latest news articles (since August 2021) in TheBurlingtonFiles website before taking the plunge and getting stuck into Beyond Enkription. You’ll soon be immersed in a whole new world which you won’t want to exit. Intriguingly, the articles were released seven or more years after the book was published. TheBurlingtonFiles website itself is well worth a visit and don’t miss the articles about FaireSansDire. The website is a bit like a virtual espionage museum and refreshingly advert free.

    Returning to the intense and electrifying thriller Beyond Enkription, it has had mainly five star reviews so don’t be put off by Chapter 1 if you are squeamish. You can always skip through the squeamish bits and just get the gist of what is going on in the first chapter. Mind you, infiltrating international state sponsored people and body part smuggling mobs isn’t a job for the squeamish! Thereafter don’t skip any of the text or you’ll lose the plots. The book is ever increasingly cerebral albeit pacy and action packed. Indeed, the twists and turns in the interwoven plots kept me guessing beyond the epilogue even on my second reading.

    The characters were wholesome, well-developed and beguiling to the extent that you’ll probably end up loving those you hated ab initio, particularly Sara Burlington. The attention to detail added extra layers of authenticity to the narrative and above all else you can’t escape the realism. Unlike reading most spy thrillers, you will soon realise it actually happened but don’t trust a soul.

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