Kid gloves? No way. Retired Marine Capt. Dale Dye puts Hollywood’s A-listers through their paces with a gusto that makes their agents reach for the Pepto-Bismol. In the realistic boot camps that Dye conducts for actors in military movies, there’s neither room service nor lip service. Training for Saving Private Ryan, Dye called the actors turds. Stars do get special treatment, though. In recognition of his two Oscars, Dye called Tom Hanks Turd No. 1.
Since he brought a vivid realism to the war-movie genre with 1986’s Vietnam saga Platoon, Dye has become filmdom’s hottest military adviser, teaching a host of box office biggies the grim reality of combat. The actors can’t seem to get enough of the man they call the Captain. “He’s helped make me a better person,” says Ryan’s Tom Sizemore. “I feel like I’ve been in battle with him.”
The 6’2″ Dye, who remains a lean, mean fighting machine at 53, is a man with a mission. “If the public pays $7.50 for a movie, they deserve to see the real thing,” says Dye, who spent 21 years in the Marine Corps and collected three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star in Vietnam. So Dye, who taught Hanks how to throw a hand grenade for Forrest Gump and Tom Cruise how to search a Vietnamese hut for Born on the Fourth of July, runs his high-profile charges through what amounts to nearly two weeks of condensed basic training. “It’s the business of deconstructing and reconstructing,” he says. “Taking that ego nonsense out of the kid, stripping him down to the lowest common denominator and rebuilding him in the image that’s required.”
The Captain’s “grunts” must stay in their movie characters while they endure 5 a.m. wakeups and five-mile runs, sleep in foxholes and subsist on field rations—all the while being hectored by drill instructor Dye.
Dye came by his craft the hard way. Growing up in St. Louis, he was entranced by his salesman father’s World War II Navy tales. The stories stopped in 1957, when his father committed suicide. “I was unfortunately there at the time,” says Dye. “It was a tough deal.” His mother, Delia, an office manager who died in 1970, scraped together money for Dye to attend military academies in Chicago and Missouri. He failed the exams for the U.S. Naval Academy and enlisted in the Marines as a private in 1964, rising to become a commissioned officer 12 years later. Along the way he got a degree in English from the University of Maryland and survived two marriages. The first, he says, “was destroyed by Vietnam” because of the long absences, and the second (to a fellow Marine) by his post-traumatic stress disorder following his three tours of duty there. Fighting house-to-house through the city of Hue, he says, still gives him nightmares. “That’s where you look ’em in their eyes and shoot ’em nose to nose.”
He met third wife Kathryn, 43, a former L.A. Rams cheerleader who now heads his movie-consulting operation, in 1982, when he finally left the service—with no clear idea of what to do: “The Mafia wasn’t hiring, and I didn’t want to be a cop.” Instead he became an editor at Soldier of Fortune magazine for a year before heading to Hollywood on the advice of a friend. Frustrated by a lack of interest at the studios, Dye heard that a fellow Viet vet named Oliver Stone was making an independent film about the war. He called Stone at home and was soon on his way to the Philippines to advise on the shooting of Platoon. Dye was so convincing there that he won a small part in the film (as did his wife, as a mortally wounded Vietnamese). He has since attained the rank of thespian in 25 films, including Private Ryan.
Dye’s role at his Mediterranean-style home in Northridge, Calif., is different. Cuddling the couple’s daughter Adrienne, 10, he whispers, “Little captain.” She rolls her eyes at his mawkish-ness but is a real trooper. Filming Outbreak in ’94, recalls Dye, “I would drop the unit for push-ups, and she would be out there doing them too. And she’s pretty good at it.”
Jeanne Gordon in Los Angeles