The following are my list of the toughest of the tough. The real bad asses. Ernest Hemingway would have respected these guys:
Steve McQueen, the #1 tough guy in all of Hollywood history, as far as I'm concerned. Certified cool.
Yeah, Robert Mitchum was a close second. He beat the shit out of Marines in real life.
You had to like Lee Marvin. He really was a Marine and got shot in the ass by machine gun fire in Saipan. Most of his platoon was killt, but not Marvin. Yeah, that's tough.
Hell. Anthony Quinn. He was siring babies when he was in his seventies. And playing the great god Zeus around that time. It fit. As a young man he boxed professionally to earn extra money and was friends with Frank Lloyd Wright. Well, shit! It just cain't get much cooler than that!
Jack Palance. Yeah, one tough bastard. He was once 15-0 as a heavyweight pro boxer with 12 knockouts. He finally lost a close decision to a ranked contender and called it quits and was drafted. Burned in a training accident as a paratrooper, he had reconstructive surgery on his face which left him with the gaunt look we came to know on screen. The funniest thing I ever saw in a movie was a fight between him (as Toriance) and Charlton Heston (as Ed Bannon)--we were supposed to believe that Cheston could beat Palance. Right. For Palance, that was some real acting.
Well, I have to include a couple of modern actors. I don't think I need to elaborate too much here with Nick Nolte. Shit. Yeah, we've all had a laugh at his arrest mug shot. OK, OK--it's funny. But nobody as honest as this guy can be anything other than a total badass. He's got my vote for that. Damned good actor, too.
Sean Penn is not only one of our great modern actors, he's also got a toughness that's not just projected. It's real. Has to be. It takes guts to go against the grain of the status quo, which he does frequently. Viva Chavez, baby!