Home Articles A Look at the Life and Career of Legendary Actor Charles Fernley Fawcett

A Look at the Life and Career of Legendary Actor Charles Fernley Fawcett

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Charles Fernley Fawcett (2 December 1915 – 3 February 2008) was an adventurous American soldier who co-founded the International Medical Corps, and has received awards like the French Croix de Guerre medal and the Eisenhower Medal from the US. Moreover, he was declared “Righteous Among Nations” for his help in rescuing and taking care of Jewish refugees throughout World War II. Varian Fry regarded him as “an adventurer with strong morals”.

From Grieving Orphan to Professional Wrestler

Charles Fernley Fawcett was from Waleska, Georgia. However, his mother died during a snow storm when he was 6-years old. His family tree includes Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both well known US people! After losing his mother, Charles and his three siblings moved to Greenville, South Carolina to live with their aunt. At Greenville High School, he learned to wrestle and play American football for 3 years.

When he was 15-years old, Fawcett had a relationship with his best friend’s mom. He later said that if that meant he had done something bad, then he wished this would happen to every young boy. The affair ended badly, and it made Fawcett consider taking his own life. To get away from this, Fawcett left the US when he was 16 and traveled to Far East by working on merchant ships.

After spending some time in New York City, he went to Washington D.C. and stayed with his cousin who was a Postmaster General’s assistant. He had to wrestle in order to make money while living there. In 1937, he boarded a boat going to France where he worked as an artist’s model, a jazz musician and eventually became a professional wrestler.

Charles Fernley Fawcett during World War II

In 1939, during World War II, Fawcett joined the Polish Army but after a week he ran away and hitchhiked to Paris. Even though he asked, both U.S. Intelligence and the French Armed Forces rejected him. So he joined the French ambulance corps called “Section Volontaire des Américains”. He was about to join a group in North Africa for fighting against Nazis when he heard about Varian Fry who wanted to save Jews from Vichy France with a group of helpers including Fawcett. Among them they rescued Franz Werfel, Marc Chagall, Heinrich Mann, and Hannah Arendt.

I went to meet a man called Fry, who wasn’t interested in me at first. But when I told him that I had been a professional wrestler, he offered me a job to help him keep control of the situation. Fry was very kind and innocent looking so people didn’t really suspect him. His bow-tie and suit were too formal for Marseilles, but it made people trust him more easily.

In Paris, Fawcett helped free a group of British prisoners-of-war who were being held in a hospital by the Germans. Early in the morning at 4am, Fawcett and a friend pretended to be German ambulance workers and told the French nurses to take the POWs outside. Then he said, “You are now liberated”. Someone asked if he was from America; He replied with his southern accent, “Nope, never confuse me with an American!”

In 1942, he joined the Royal Air Force and learnt to fly planes like the Hawker Hurricane. That same year at Christmas time, his tuberculosis (a disease he had before) returned and he was sent to a sanatorium in Canada to rest and get better. Later on in 1943, he went back to America and then off to an Arizona TB clinic where he stayed for around a year. Then in 1944, Fawcett traveled back Europe and rejoined the American Ambulance Corps there.

At the end of World War II, Fawcett used his identity to help six Jewish women escape from concentration camps. He got them special permits from America which allowed them to leave France. But then he found out that the Gestapo was coming to arrest him and so he had to flee very quickly.

In 1945, after leaving France, he joined the French Foreign Legion. He then spent six months fighting in the forests of Alsace and helped to free Colmar. Unfortunately, he became sick with tuberculosis and had to stay in a hospital for Legionnaires in Paris.

He was a brave person – he received medals from France and the United States for his courage. His life could be described as remarkable, with an attitude of helping less fortunate people and enjoying thrilling experiences. People found himself entertaining when they heard his stories about doing great things and being daring.

Charles Fernley Fawcett Post-war

In 1948, Fawcett was a part of the Greek Army fighting against the Communists during the Greek Civil War. He was wearing ordinary clothing like a journalist to hide his identity because no foreigner were allowed to join in this fight.

In 1949, Fawcett became an actor and starred in over a hundred films with actors Errol Flynn, Alan Ladd and Robert Taylor. Besides acting, he also helped smuggled refugees away from dangerous civil conflicts, put together earthquake relief teams and even took part in multiple wars! He was also one of the founders of International Medical Corps.

In 1956, Fawcett helped people flee from the dangerous situation in Hungary. Then he worked for 3 years in Congo during their civil war and saved those who were unable to escape the violence. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and this started 12 years of Fawcet assisting Afghan resistance fighters.

In 2006, someone suggested that Fawcett should be given an honor called “Righteous Among the Nations” at a special event in Britain to remember the Holocaust.

Fawcett’s Star-Studded Journey from France to Italy

From 1949 to 1976, Fawcett was a star in over 100 movies, TV shows and radio productions. First, he worked in France but after 1952, his wife and him settled down in Rome and he started working mainly in Italy. Rumor has it that he had a romantic relationship with the actress Hedy Lamarr.

Charles Fernley Fawcett Personal Life

Fawcett had a daughter with his first wife, but she sadly passed away in 1956. After this, he waited 30 whole years before finally tying the knot again and marrying April Ducksbury – a British model agency worker – in 1991. The two of them then moved to London where they lived together.

Fawcett Passes Away at 92

Fawcett passed away on February 3rd, 2008 in London and was 92 years old at that time.

Selected filmography

  • When in Rome (1952) – Mr. Cates was in this movie.
  • War and Peace (1956) – In this movie, he played a captain in the Russian artillery.
  • Lonelyhearts (1958) – He was cast as Smitty in this one.
  • Barabbas (1961) – He was also featured here.
  • It Happened in Athens (1962) – He took on the role of Ambassador Cyrus T. Gaylord here.
  • The 300 Spartans (1962) – Megistias was his character in this picture.
  • Old Shatterhand (1964) – This last credit has him playing General Taylor.

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