Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood introduces one of the greatest U.S. veterans who never lived. The character Cliff Booth is presented as a veteran of both WWII and the Korean War. He is an experienced martial artist who could “kill you with a spoon,” according to Tarantino. He is a stuntman who once beat Bruce Lee in a fight.

Most of all, he is (spoiler alert for fans) a work of fiction.

Well, mostly. Booth is actually based on two actual Hollywood stuntmen. Both men served in the military, though neither served in WWII. Both have led interesting and well-traveled lives, and one of them actually met Charles Manson.

Whether the truth is better than fiction is ultimately up to personal opinion, but let’s compare.


Cliff Booth, the Action Hero

Brad Pitt plays Cliff Booth in the movie. He is a stunt double for Rick Dalton, another fictional character portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. There are lots of great tough-guy Hollywood moments for Booth, including run-ins with the Manson Family. I won’t spoil the whole plot, but for anyone who has seen Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, you get where this goes.

Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio
Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino, and Leonardo DiCaprio at the “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” photocall in Berlin 2019. Brad Pitt played decorated veteran and stuntman Cliff Booth in the movie. (Wikimedia Commons)

A tortured-yet-calm man of actions-over-words, Booth is the vet that Hollywood and “almost-vets” love most. He is a man’s-man in 1969 Hollywood who lives as he wants, wins his fights, and could mostly care less. He’s charming, deadly, and a double recipient of the Medal of Valor.

As Tarantino has said, “He’s a rather Zen dude who is troubled by very little.” Well, except the death of his wife, but again, I’ll avoid the spoilers.