'An Actor and A Gentleman' by Louis Gossett Jr.

Read an excerpt from 'An Actor and A Gentleman'

ByABC News via logo
May 24, 2010, 1:58 PM

May 25, 2010— -- In "An Actor and A Gentleman" Louis Gossett Jr., known for his portrayal of Sergeant Emil Foley in the hit movie "An Officer and A Gentleman," reflects on his journey in Hollywood and the life lessons and stories along the way.

Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

There were lots of women in and out of my life during those years, as I discovered that little kids could be babe magnets. I found out that a man caring for a small child without a woman was somehow attractive to other women. "Where is the mother?" they usually asked when they saw me walking into a restaurant with Satie or buying groceries in the supermarket.

"She's gone," I told them, and their eyes lit up with a mixture of sadness and admiration. This led to some delightful experiences. As I got more involved in projects, however, and my fame grew, I had to be extra cautious. I was learning that I could easily become a target, especially to women who might take advantage of my situation. I was slowly becoming a quasi-playboy while being a full-time single father. My need for a little downtime from the constant work was too often time that I filled with women who dealt in drugs and alcohol. Still, despite my media-illuminated missteps, I always had work, and, far more important, I clung to the role of proud and primary parent of a beautiful, loving, albeit spoiled, little boy.

Working on the ABC movie "Don't Look Back: The Story of Leroy 'Satchel' Paige," which we filmed in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was a special pleasure, particularly because I'd played baseball in high school. Satch was rail thin, so even though I was a little skinny, I had to resist some of the wonderful barbecues to stay that way during the filming. I also had to wear a hairpiece, which was a real pain, moving as it did all over my head in the oppressive heat. Having Satchel present on the set in his famous rocking chair a year before he died of emphysema added a special dimension to the filming. I have always felt that this movie, directed by George C. Scott, should have been a major film, rather than a TV movie. It was about the great Negro League pitcher who finally made his way into the American League at the age of forty-two, the first of the Negro League stars to be elected into the Hall of Fame.

In real life, I was in my mid-forties, often eight to ten years older than the roles I wanted to play. I was on the mature fringe of the artistic renaissance I saw taking place all around me. I saw so many interesting roles out there that gave actors chances to try new acting techniques, but the competitive edge for those roles seemed to be going to fellow actors who were younger than I was. I had to use up so much energy keeping my name out there, attending functions, being a celebrity, when all I wanted was to create my own family and be home with my son. I understood why so many of my fellow actors simply did not show up for these events, but I did not feel as if I had that luxury. My name had to be constantly in the paper.

So, the minute I saw the script for "An Officer and a Gentleman," I knew that playing Sergeant Emil Foley was my shot. Originally, the script called for a white man to play the role of the hard-nosed gunnery sergeant, but somehow my incredible agent, Ed Bondy, got it for me. The second I'd officially landed the role of the drill instructor sergeant who whips his recruits into men by stripping them of their original identities and building them back up from scratch, ultimately turning them into marines, I knew I had to put myself through at least some degree of this all-encompassing transformation. If I was going to do this role, I would do it 100 percent right. The place to help me do this was the Marine Corps Recruitment Division (MCRD), an adjunct of Camp Pendleton, where they generously allowed me to enter military life for thirty days. Luckily, I was in pretty good physical shape then, running, swimming, and doing exercises of all sorts, which was a great asset for me. When I left the MCRD, I was in great shape. I had had the utmost respect for the marines before I got this role, proud that they were the first branch of the military to thoroughly integrate, from top to bottom, from commandant to beginners, and now the percentage of integration was even higher.

While at the MCRD, I got to hang out with the drill instructors (DIs) and saw how deeply they cared about each recruit, how important it was for them to turn these young men into real marines. To this day, every time I see a marine, I run over to shake his hand. Most of them simply shake their heads at this crazy tall black man, but some recognize me. "Ah, Lou Gossett," they say, smiling and warmly returning my handshake. Last year, I was invited to Camp Lejeune to commemorate an important anniversary for the oldest branch of the military. How I loved to watch those impeccable marine giants jump to attention at the slightest hand gesture from that black female commandant, Colonel Adele Hodges, the first woman ever to be in charge of the Marine Corps base, all 5' 4" of her. Some marine units actually use An Officer and a Gentleman in their training programs.

There was so much to learn at the MCRD, especially how the gunnery sergeant, or "gunny," as they call him, teaches each of his men that in order to survive, he has to set aside his own self and all of his own personal motivations in order to defend his country. At Camp Pendleton, I watched the young boys arrive with their long hair, drugs, and cigarettes and go into shock as they were told, "Get rid of your former life. Throw everything into this big wooden box. As of today, I'm your mother, father, wife, girlfriend, and the Holy Ghost."