Sterling Hayden was not your typical Hollywood leading man. He was one of those rare exceptions of a star who lived out the roles he played onscreen. An intimidating 6' 5'' frame and tough-guy demeanor won him roles playing criminals, generals, sheriffs, and other gritty characters. "The Asphalt Jungle" was one of his more famous films, as well as a classic of film noir.
During WWII Hayden joined the Marines. After becoming a second lieutenant he was transferred to William J. Donovan's COI office, where he became an undercover agent, later working as an OSS agent when that office became the OSS. While there he earned a Silver Star for his courage in sailing missions as well as reconnaissance, working in rescue teams and running guns through German lines.
Despite having a film career that lasted over forty years, he professed in interviews that it was merely a means to finance his true passion: sailing. This love for the sea was instilled in him at the age of 15, when he ran away from home and became a ship's boy. For many years he lived on various ships, sailing around the world numerous times. Eventually he was awarded the command of a boat at 22, in which he sailed from Massachusetts to Tahiti. When he divorced his wife in 1958, he made this voyage again with his children.
Sterling Hayden wrote two books, one being the autobiographical "Wanderer." In it he revealed his belief that every man needs adventure, poignantly stated in the following passage:
"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... cruising, it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about. "I've always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of security. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone. What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade. The years thunder by, the dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?"