From the archives, 1978: 'Star Wars' star Mark Hamill visits Yokosuka alma mater
Stars and Stripes May 4, 2023
This article first appeared in the Stars and Stripes Pacific edition, June 19, 1978. It is republished unedited in its original form.
YOKOSUKA NB, Japan — Mark Hamill, a shooting star success in the futuristic fantasy film, "Star Wars," rode a helicopter instead of a space vehicle Friday and flew straight into the nostalgic past.
Hamill was picked up by a Navy chopper in Tokyo and landed near Nile C. Kinnick High School at Yokosuka NB, where he was hailed by Principal Douglas M. Spaulding as the school's most distinguished graduate.
Less than a decade after picking up his diploma at Kinnick, Hamill is better known worldwide as Luke Skywalker, the intrepid hero who turns back intergalactic invaders in a film as successful as the 26-year-old actor himself.
That, Hamill said as he toured his alma mater and a Navy destroyer, was just part of the story. Spending his high school years in Yokohama, where his father was Navy Exchange officer, Hamill told of leaving Kinnick in 1969 and heading for Los Angeles, where he started on the bottom rung of show business and slowly fought his way up.
All during his last student years, Hamill related, he had secretly aspired to an acting career and did his best to background himself. He took parts in several school plays, worked in the audio-visual department and was a member of the drama club. He also picked up poise and confidence as president of the student council during his senior year.
King for a day at Yokosuka, Hamill was modest and quiet-spoken about it all, dwelling on the lean, slow years instead of his sudden success.
"I became a professional interviewee and auditioner," Hamill said, relating that it took 130 interviews before he landed his first part — a two-line bit on Bill Cosby's show. There were 73 more roles, little more than flashing vignettes, before he landed the big one in the film that has grossed $216 million and surpassed "Jaws" as the most successful movie in history.
Hamill returned to Japan on a kind of business trip — a publicity junket for the July 1 opening of "Star Wars" in Tokyo and Osaka. But he wasn't above a sentimental detour to his old campus, where he shook hands, signed autographs and recalled some happy — sometimes mischievous — days at Kinnick.
At an assembly in the Teen Club, Hamill told how he and several other seniors violated a curfew on prom night and wound up in Shore Patrol headquarters — in tuxedos and formals.
He had once tried out as a lifeguard, but Special Services thought a youngster only 5-foot-7 would be miscast. But they let him sit at the edge of the yacht basin and dive in after anybody who fell overboard.
Hamill called himself "a plain Joe whose main hobby was girl hounding." While he kissed 18-year-old Melanie Shriver, a Kinnick graduate of a few weeks ago, Hamill showed no signs of backsliding into his old ways. He was traveling with his girlfriend, Marilou York, who kept a hawkish eye on him all the way.
Hamill also toured the destroyer Hammond, patiently scrawling his signature many times for a mob of adoring kids — some of whom wore "Star Wars" T-shirts. All the while, he appeared to be taking sudden fame in stride — definitely not one of the affected performers who is "on" all the time.
But he did confide that this appearance was a bit too public.
"One day soon," he said, "I'm going to don dark glasses and slip in here unnoticed to visit my old home."
But that likely won't be soon. Hamill was to leave Monday for Ireland where he'll co-star with Lee Marvin in a war film, "The Big Red One." And, he told youngsters at the assembly, there will be a sequel to "Star Wars."
Check out Stars and Stripes’ 2008 interview with Mark Hamill here.
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