General George S. Patton (1885-1945) was a great American general who led armies to victory in north Africa, Sicily, France, and Germany during World War II. He had a larger than life personality and was, at times, as controversial as he was successful. In 1970, actor George C. Scott depicted him in the blockbuster movie Patton.
In 2012, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, a professor at the US Naval War College, wrote a book about the creation and influence of this film: Making Patton: A Classic War Film's Epic Journey to the Silver Screen. It contains fascinating bits of information about the real Patton and the film Patton. Here are some that I've gleaned from Sarantakes's book:
1. Gen. Patton believed that he had been reincarnated from many previous military lives. Specifically he believed that he had been a Greek soldier who resisted the Persian invasion of Ionia, a Roman soldier in the Tenth Legion under Julius Caesar, a Viking warrior, a Scottish Highlander fighting for the House of Stuart, a French soldier who escorted Napoleon Bonaparte on his retreat from Russia, and a member of a New York regiment during the American Civil War (8-9).
2. The opening speech in the film is a compilation of several that Gen. Patton gave (2).
(Images: Burt Lancaster in Run Silent, Run Deep and John Wayne in Flying Leathernecks)
3. Burt Lancaster and John Wayne were both considered for the role of Patton. Burt Lancaster was very interested and immediately agreed to the role before the first attempt at the film in the early 60s fell apart (38-42).
(Image: Ronald Reagan, Department of Defense)
4. Ronald Reagan wanted the lead role, but producers never offered it to him. He wouldn’t have had the time anyway, as he had entered politics by that point (66). By the time that the film was produced and released, Reagan was the Governor of California. He loved the movie and admitted that Scott did a better job in the role than he could have (148).
(Images: Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen and Rod Steiger in Waterloo)
5. Producers also offered two other actors the lead role: Lee Marvin and Rod Steiger (65-66).
6. Gen. Patton had dyslexia (8).
7. Patton represented the US during the 1912 Olympic Games. He competed in the pentathlon and scored fifth place overall (10).
8. Gen. Patton was known for his foul language, but it was mostly an act. He used it expressively to motivate his men and did not swear in casual conversation (9, 14).
9. The movie depicts Patton and Gen. Omar Bradley as close friends. In reality, they were distant. Bradley found Patton’s personality and style grating and offensive (15).
10. The movie also suggests that Patton and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower were distant, whereas they had been close friends for decades. Both had been early advocates for tank warfare after World War I (13-16).
11. The movie depicts at length a rivalry between Patton and British General Bernard Montgomery. Sarantakes writes that in reality, it was “one-sided.” Montgomery was less concerned about his reputation relative to Patton than Patton was (18).
12. In the movie, Patton got in a lot of trouble for slapping a soldier that he thought was a coward. There were actually two different soldiers he slapped. He was proud of his actions and bragged about them to General Bradley (19-21).
13. George C. Scott, the actor who played Patton, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1945. The war ended before he was able to be deployed. He spent the remainder of his time in the service at Arlington National Cemetery, working on a burial detail (74).
(The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton by John Trumbull)
14. Gen. Patton was a direct descendant of General Hugh Mercer, an American officer who died of his wounds at the Battle of Princeton (9).
15. The European battle scenes were shot in Spain, which offered widely varied landforms in a small area. The large groups of soldiers, both Americans and Germans, were soldiers of the Spanish Army. That army still used many World War II-era vehicles, which made equipping them for the movie easier (105, 113).
16. After its release, a rumor circulated that President Nixon had become obsessed with it. Sarantakes describes the rumor:
He saw it again and again and again. He talked about it at meetings. He imitated Scott’s physical gestures. The film even shaped policy toward the Vietnam War. Chou En-lai, the foreign minister of the People’s Republic of China, said he watched the film twenty-six times in an effort to understand Nixon. Hugh Sidey of Time-Life pushed the story of the president’s fascination with the film, and many others in the media picked up the story. Henry Kissinger encouraged journalists with these stories--and might have been the source of them. Sidey also implied that Patton helped initiate the invasion of Cambodia (130).
But, Sarantakes notes, White House logs indicate that Nixon watched Patton only 3 times and he commonly re-watched films. It is more accurate to say that Nixon was fascinated by General George Patton, not the movie about him (130-131).
17. George C. Scott loathed the Academy Awards and boycotted them. Nonetheless, in 1970, the Academy gave him the Oscar for Best Actor for Patton (157-160).
18. Scott’s portrayal of Patton helped actor Rene Auberjonois shape his depiction of Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (163-164).
19. George C. Scott reprised the role of Patton in the 1986 television movie The Last Days of Patton. This film shows Patton’s life from V-E Day to his death in December of 1945 (173-175).
20. During the 1989 US invasion of Panama, US forces bottled up Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in the Vatican’s mission in Panama City. They played music over loudspeakers in an effort to annoy Noriega. One of their selections was the soundtrack to Patton (180).