Rock Hudson as James “Jim” Ferraday, U.S. Navy Commander and nuclear submarine captain
The North Pole, Spring 1968
Film: Ice Station Zebra
Release Date: October 23, 1968
Director: John Sturges
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Despite its lukewarm critical reception at its release, Ice Station Zebra was not only among star Rock Hudson’s favorites of his own films, but it also includes among its fans director John Carpenter (who admits it’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure) and Howard Hughes. During the reclusive tycoon’s years hidden away in his penthouse at the Desert Inn hotel, Hughes would supposedly demand that the local Las Vegas TV station that he owned play the movie on loop, eventually owning a private print that he reportedly watched around 150 times on a continuous loop. “We all knew when Hughes was in town,” wrote Paul Anka in his autobiography My Way. “You’d get back to your room, turn on the TV at 2 a.m., and the movie Ice Station Zebra would be playing. At 5 a.m., it would start all over again. It was on almost every night. Hughes loved that movie.”
The object of Hughes’ obsession was based on a 1963 novel by Alistair MacLean, the Scottish author also behind classic military adventures like The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare that were also adapted into movies during the ’60s. Inspired by a few real-life Cold War incidents, the novel was adapted into a screenplay by MacLean as well as Douglas Heyes, Harry Julian Fink, and W.R. Burnett, with a few diversions from and additions to MacLean’s source novel, including the renaming of the leading character from Commander Swanson to Commander Ferraday.
The movie begins as Admiral Garvey (Lloyd Nolan) summons Commander Ferraday to his room for Scotch and a discussion of Drift Ice Station Zebra, which Ferraday recalls is a “British civilian weather station up at the North Pole… they’re in some sort of trouble up there” before he is swiftly ordered up to rescue the survivors… though the rescue is merely a subterfuge for the true, “vitally important” purpose of Ferraday’s expedition. Commander Ferraday is quickly placed at the helm of Tigerfish, a nuclear submarine which boards a platoon of Marines as well as the mysterious British agent “Mr. Jones” (Patrick McGoohan), “some sort of sneaky bastard involved in some sort of low skullduggery,” on Jones’ own admission. Along the way, they pick up the reserved USMC Captain Anders (Jim Brown) and the gregarious Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), “the damndest anti-Russian Russian you ever met,” according to Jones, both of whom are evidently to play a crucial role in the increasingly treacherous—and mysterious—mission.
What’d He Wear?
After sporting a stylish tweed sports coat, striped tie, and trench coat for his evening meeting with Admiral Garvey, Ferraday spends the first half of Ice Station Zebra appropriately clad in a rotation of U.S. Navy working uniforms, primarily his khaki service shirt and trousers with a blue work jacket and N1 deck jacket, almost always with his blue “scrambled eggs” baseball cap, khaki web belt, and the well-shined black shoes of a naval surface officer.
It isn’t until the second half when Ferraday dresses for his wintry mission in the durable outerwear that led to Ice Station Zebra‘s unique position as “the all-time most parka-friendly film” according to Josh Sims in Icons of Men’s Style.
After surfacing Tigerfish through the ice where Ice Station Zebra was supposed to be, Ferraday briefly dons what appears to be a Navy-issue parka in olive drab when surveying the area. He then consults with Jones (himself dressed in some noteworthy fur winter gear), Vaslov, and Paul Zabrinczski (Ron Masak) to build the team that will be making the trek to get Jones to the station and rescue whatever survivors they find… all while suspecting a saboteur in their midst.
Ferraday and his team dress warmly for their mission, with Ferraday himself swapping out the olive parka for a heavier duty blue waterproof nylon parka and matching pants.
Though parkas had been authorized by the U.S. military for two decades by the time of Ice Station Zebra, the unique pullover parkas worn by Ferraday and some of his men (albeit in orange) seem to exist outside the established N-3B, B-9, M-48, M-51, and M-65 systems, all of which had a full front closure and were mostly issued only in shades of army green or the occasional white. In fact, a strong case could be made to define Ferraday’s hooded outerwear as an anorak—albeit with some parka-inspired sensibilities—due to its pullover nature and drawstring-cinched waist.
That said, there were stocks of a pullover garment designated “Parka, field, cotton, O.D.” authorized in 1943 for the U.S. Army in conditions of wind, rain, or snow, and suggested to be worn over a pile parka. Like Ferraday’s parka, it has a wide trapezoidal four-button “placket” section at the top as well as a large handwarmer pocket across the chest, accessed by a slanted flap on each side that closes though a single button. (For an example, see this rare piece available for sale from Overlooked Military Surplus or this M-1943 on WorthPoint.) There was also an experimental attempt around 1950 for the U.S. Army to develop the M-50 pullover parka and matching pants, though the top closure had graduated to snaps and the two pockets were moved below the waist. (See this M-50 set from U.S. Militaria Forum.)
Assuming that Ferraday’s garment was at least inspired by the M-1943 cotton poplin “pullover parka”, we’ll stick with that nomenclature when describing his blue nylon jacket. The hood is lined in woolen pile and trimmed with soft fur, and it can be tightened with a long blue drawstring that extends down to mid-chest. As I described, there is also a long trapezoidal “placket”-like panel that tapers down from around the neck with three rows of buttonholes that each fastens to a large plastic button, with an additional button on the top row with a slanted buttonhole to ensure extra insulation at the top as seen on the M-1943 parka. The set-in sleeves close at the cuffs with a single-button semi-tab.
The popularity of winter sportswear has evolved the anorak and pullover parka into lighter weight territory more appropriate for sweating on the slopes rather than military-grade insulation for Arctic operations, generally rigged with zippers rather than buttons with nary a pile layer or fur trim to be found, as evident by these Adidas and Charles River Apparel examples.
While the colors are a darker, more muted navy, and the buttons extend all the way down to the waist, these sherpa-lined parkas from J. Crew Mercantile and Tommy Hilfiger at least reflect the spirit of CDR Ferraday’s M-43-inspired garment.
For additional warmth in the initial snowstorm, Ferraday wears a blue ribbed knit wool neck gaiter, also known as a half-balaclava, which covers all parts of his face south of the eye goggles from his nose down. These are still popular winter accessories, though typically in more modern construction like manmade fleece or merino wool.
Ferraday wears blue nylon pants that match his jacket, likely a pair of weather-resistant salopettes. Salopettes are essentially ski trousers with a high-bibbed waist that is either pre-fitted with suspenders (braces) or can be worn with them. If the trousers from the Army’s experimental M-50 set are any indication, these would have a zip fly and a drawstring waist with pairs of loops on each side to connect to heavy-duty suspenders.
The salopettes likely have leg ties or straps under each foot, to be worn inside his boots. Ferraday wears black heavy-duty snow boots with black laces tied through silver-toned D-ring eyelets.
When he’s not in the heavy snow storm, Ferraday removes his heavy blue mittens, likely made from the same waterproof nylon shell as his parka and pants, and briefly wears them hooked via a long cord to the right button under the handwarmer pocket flap.
Underneath, he wears a pair of black leather gloves that are ribbed across the top of the fingers and hands and elasticized around the wrists for a warm, secure fit.
Ferraday wears a pair of large gray ski goggles with a one-piece yellow plastic lens and an elasticized strap that secures them to his head. Based on the shape, style, and the two studs in the center above the nose, I suggest that these were made by H.L. Bouton Company of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Bouton was a popular mid-century company that sold both protective eyewear for both civilian and military usage. WorthPoint currently has Bouton ski goggles from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s available to view, with the latter most resembling Rock Hudson’s screen-worn eyewear.
We don’t see much of what Ferraday wears under his parka aside from the top of what appears to be a high-necked olive green henley shirt layered over a white cotton henley.
The full coverage of Ferraday’s Arctic gear covers his hands, but I would be remiss not to mention the wristwatch that Rock Hudson wears throughout Ice Station Zebra, a “reverse panda” steel chronograph with three white registers on a black dial. A closer look reveals a blue-and-red “Pepsi” bezel, the lack of numeric markers (including at 12:00), and a dark navy-and-gray striped nylon strap. This particular watch had been the subject of discussion at a few forums like The Military Watch Resource and Omega Forums, where users had seemingly narrowed the choices down to a Breitling Avi 765 Co Pilot or the more likely Heuer Autovia, specifically ref. 2446.
I’m inclined to agree with the latter suggestion, specifically adding that Hudson appears to be wearing a Heuer Autovia ref. 2446 made to resemble a GMT with a blue-and-red Pepsi bezel although the telltale white “GMT” lettering does not appear to be on the dial. (Check out a vintage Heuer Autavia 2446 GMT “First Execution” at Watch Pool 24, which describes the timepiece as a “Holy Grail” with only 10 of these first run still in existence today.)
On the third finger of his left hand, CDR Ferraday wears a gold ring with a blue stone, resembling a class ring. I’m not sure if the character’s educational history was addressed in the novel, but it’s possible that this is meant to be his class ring from the United States Naval Academy.
What to Imbibe
“I’m a bourbon man myself, but when in Scotland…” Admiral Garvey utters in one of the film’s early scenes as he offers a dram of Haig Dimple to Ferraday. Marketed in the U.S. as “Haig & Haig Dimple Pinch”, this blended Scotch took the latter part of its name from the unique three-sided bottles with their dimpled sides that had been used from the 1890s.
Haig Dimple is a heavier, more expensive alternative to Haig Gold Label. The Gold Label variety can be found in contemporary espionage-themed movies like Our Man in Havana, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and The Sea Wolves, while the distinctive-looking Dimple featured in many of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels and short stories as well as movies and TV shows like Across the Pacfic, The Godfather, Laura, Mad Men, The Thin Man and After the Thin Man, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad, where Bryan Cranston’s Walter White asks for it by name in the series’ penultimate episode.
In Ice Station Zebra, Garvey pours his whisky into a copita glass, a short-stemmed glass often reserved for sherry or tasting whisky.
Given the film’s setting, Scotch whisky seems to be the great equalizer and Ferraday sneaks a small bottle of Ballantine’s Finest to Jones per his request, despite his understanding that consumption of liquor is forbidden on U.S. Navy submarines.
I recently waxed poetic about the history and legacy of Ballantine’s Scotch in a post about Dean Martin’s red sports jacket in the second Matt Helm, Murderers’ Row, if you’d like to check it out.
As an American military officer, it should be no surprise that CDR Ferraday arms himself with a Colt M1911A1, the venerable .45-caliber semi-automatic service pistol that had served the U.S. military since its initial development as the Model of 1911. The U.S. Army was the first to adopt it, with the Navy and Marine Corps following with formal adoption of the weapon in 1913.
As he never needs to fire it on screen, the production team appears to have used a genuine .45-caliber M1911A1 and not a 9mm copy or a Spanish-made Star Model B as was often practiced in contemporary productions that didn’t want to gamble with trying to cycle then-unreliable .45 ACP blanks.
Perhaps for easier access or to keep it warm in the extreme cold, Ferraday foregoes a holster and pockets his M1911A1 in the handwarmer of his parka.
How to Get the Look
Rock Hudson’s naval commander in Ice Station Zebra dresses for his Arctic adventure in a blue pullover parka (and matching salopettes) seemingly adapted from the 1943 pattern of U.S. military winter-wear that predated the more famous “snorkel” or “fishtail” styles to follow, accompanied by goggles, face mask, gloves, and heavy boots that don’t leave an inch of his skin unprotected until the snow storm passes.
- Blue waterproof nylon M-1943-style pullover parka with fur-trimmed and pile-lined hood, three-button top closure, handwarmer chest pockets with two slanted and single-button flapped openings, drawstring-cinched waist, and single-button semi-tab cuffs
- Olive green long-sleeve henley shirt
- White cotton henley undershirt
- Blue waterproof nylon salopettes
- Blue ribbed-knit wool half-balaclava/neck gaiter
- Black snow boots with silver-toned D-ring lace eyelets
- Gray plastic Bouton-style ski goggles with yellow one-piece lens and gray elasticized strap
- Black ribbed leather gloves with elasticized wrists
- Heuer Autavia 2446 GMT steel chronograph watch with blue-and-red “Pepsi” bezel, “reverse panda” black dial with three white registers, and dark navy-and-gray striped nylon strap
- Gold class ring with blue stone
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
We operate on a first name basis. My first name is “Captain.”