WHAT REAGAN AND I HAVE IN COMMON
Here’s how it happened. I grew up in East Los Angeles, far on the “other side of the tracks” from Hollywood – but I played sax in the Sheriff’s Boys Band directed by Colonel Vesey Walker (later the Disneyland Band leader). He had contacts with the moviemakers. When a child extra was needed for a movie that included a youth band, Colonel Walker was called. As a result, I got parts in three movies - and even got paid.
My first work in a Hollywood movie was in “Junior Army” released in 1942 by Columbia Pictures. The movie starred previous members of the “Dead End Kids,” Freddie Bartholomew, and others. If you’ve never heard of the Dead End Kids, that’s because you’re not an old geezer.
My second movie was “Smokey” released in 1946, starring Fred McMurray, Anne Baxter, and Burl Ives. I was in band that marched down the street.
My third and last movie was in 1947. I had a part in State of the Union” directed by Fred Capra, and starring Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Adolphe Menjou, and Angela Lansbury. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award but didn’t make it (it wasn’t my fault).
This movie was actually my first exposure to "politics." In the movie, Spencer Tracey plays an aircraft tycoon who is coerced into seeking the Republican Presidential nomination. Tracy, corrupted by the Washington power brokers, publicly compromises his values in order to get votes. During his election eve speech to the nation from his home, Spencer Tracey's conscience returns, he confesses what he has done, and apologizes on the radio to the nation (he wins, the presidency, of course). I’m in the kid band playing in Spencer Tracey’s living room, just before his speech (and you can actually see me). For many years, this State of the Union movie was played on black and white TV every four years during the presidential election cycle.
During the making of State of the Union, I was in the movie studio daily for two weeks. We went to school on the set in a corner of the studio under a tent (and the teaching, by the way, was quite good). We met all the stars, and we baked a cake we give to Katherine Hepburn on her birthday – I’ll post the photo when I find it. She was a gracious lady.
During breaks in shooting the movie, and going to school on the set, I wandered all over the studio grounds and met some of the biggest stars of that era, including the dancer Fred Astair and Elizabeth Taylor. I was paid $22.50 a day (a large sum in 1947), and with it bought the saxophone I still play today. I’ll bet you didn’t know your representative was in the movies!