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Grant, Johnny
Written by Diana Saenger   

Tinseltown's Honorary Mayor Johnny Grant Passes at 85

johnnygranthollywood.jpgJohnny Grant, Tinseltown's Honorary Mayor for many years, was one of the most prevailing connections between Hollywood's past and the present. Grant, who for years was the Executive Producer and powerhouse of the Hollywood Christmas Parade, announced, three years ago in an interview with me, that after 26 years, that would be his last year to steer the annual parade preparations. His years working on the parade spanned the terms of 11 U.S. presidents including Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

At 82, Grant had every right to think about retirement, even though he was also in charge of Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and that was a job he didn't plan to give up. "No, my title the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood is mine for life," said Grant in our interview back then. "And I'll continue to serve as Chairman of the Walk of Fame Selection Committee and the Hollywood Historic Trust, although at 82 when you've done 500 ceremonies, half of each one down on your knees, your knees are in bad shape."

Grant was born May 1923 in Goldboro, North Carolina, and admitted he had stars in his eyes from day one. "I wanted to be a circus clown, or anything that was happening in my home town. When a flying circus pilot came though, I wanted to be one. We had a circus clown that lived in our hometown, and I got to known him well. When I worked at my cousin's sandwich shop, the clown showed me how to do makeup which I used in my first real enterprise to walk down the street dressed as a clown with an A board strapped over my shoulder. I had a little duck on a lease that walked ahead of me."

Grant transitioned in radio and TV, making his show business debut on the radio in 1939, as a local newscaster for his hometown radio station, WGBR, Goldsboro, N.C. He became the host of the game show "Stop the Clock," in 1946. He had a long and involved career in Hollywood and made a significant impact on Hollywood's early history both with this media duties and his voluntary achievements (see list of is accomplishments below.)

Part of his success, Grant said, came from his early Hollywood mentors. "I couldn't have written a script depicting the kind of life I've enjoyed in Hollywood, and that all came from Bob Hope and Gene Autry. They said do things that keep you in the dinner table conversation and make people want to listen to you and then you give back."

In a career that has spanned everything from Hollywood fun, national politics and service to his country many times over, Grant had much to be proud of, but did recall a favorite. "The welcome home Desert Storm parade," he told me. "It was the biggest single day event in the history of L.A., and we didn't have much time to prepare. We had a lot of skeptics around, but I love a challenge. We put on the greatest welcome home parade for troops, which became a rolling cavalcade of military history. This pleased me because I don't think they teach enough history these days. Our parade gave people a chance to see equipment from World War I all the way through the Patriot Missiles. It was spectacular."

As a young soldier himself, Grant knew how important it was for the troops to maintain morale during wartime. He made many trips aboard with other celebrities to entertain the men away from home. "They're happy to see anybody, but if it's someone they've seen on the screen or radio, it's a lot more meaningful," he said. "This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life to do the USO tours whether it's with a big cast or two or three celebrities on hand shake tours. Occasionally I went alone because they heard me on the Armed Forces network. I remember how funny it was funny to take the young ladies out on stage there because I would describe them first, maybe saying something like, €˜she has crazy wheels.'"

The saying, "You've come a long way baby," is certainly reflective of Hollywood. When Grant started producing the parade 26 years ago, Hollywood still had a hometown glow. For a few years it became a product of its own ego and many elements of the town were ignored. Grant was fortunate enough to see it come full force again.

"It's very difference today, not as collegial as the early days in the late 40s," he said. "Back then the merchants would come out in the morning and swept up the their own sidewalks, not wait for the city to do it. There was more community spirit than now, but I do see a lot of that is coming back."

jgrantjaynem.jpg
Johnny Grant & Jayne Mansfield
Grant rubbed noses with famous stars such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Gene Autry, Jimmy Stewart, Sammy Davis, Jr., George Burns and Gracie Allen, many who were Grant's close friends.

Grant remembers when lifestyles were not so busy and it was easy to get cooperation from the celebrities for the parade. Which is not the case today in a media-frenzy era where celebrities hesitate to stick their heads out the door.

"I'm not going to try and kid you; they all have gatekeepers," said Grant. "It used to be if I wanted a celebrity, I called him/her direct. But on the other hand, I don't know a lot of the young stars today. They seem very nice and when I meet some of them, they tell me they to want to sit down and talk history, but then I don't hear from them."

Grant realized he lived at the perfect placed to get to know those young stars. "I live at the hottest place in Hollywood, the Roosevelt Hotel," he said. "I see the younger stars come through here, and they're opening a new club here now. This is also our green room, we have the whole ballroom and the big lobby, and right here in the Blossom room, was where the first Academy awards were held. I hope some of the young people will come down and enjoy it. I find when the newer stars do ride in the parade, like George Lopez did last year with his family, he was a huge hit. And they fun."

Grant was appointed to a four-year term on the City of Los Angeles' Cultural Heritage Commission, and just returned from China where he represented   Hollywood at the Chinese Film Festival celebrating the  100th anniversary of Chinese film.

jgrantnbcwi.jpgA retired Major General in the California State Military Reserve, Grant advised the Guard in his areas of expertise -- morale, public affairs, recruiting and special events. On November 24, 1982, he was promoted to the rank of Major General.

Grant won many awards including The Variety Club's Heart Award, an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Pepperdine University, Childhelp USA's Annual Sweetheart Award, Holland's Golden Heart Award, The Order of Merit from Russia and the USO's Distinguished American Award. The awards are housed in the Hollywood Museum in the Old Max Factor building.

From many bended knees in the courtyard of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre to watching one of the most fascinating industries evolve from the 1940s. Grant left us on January 8, 2008 and how appropriate that he would pass away in the place he felt was home, Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel.

More   of Johnny Grant's Accomplishments

 

  • 1949 - provided the color commentary to Tom Harmon's play-by-play of Pacific Coast Football
  • 1950 - Four-hour daytime host on KECA-TV (later to become KABC Television).
  • 1951 to 1959 - created and hosted Los Angeles radio station KMPC's "Freeway Club" and was the first disc jockey in the nation to intersperse regular traffic reports between his records and famous-name guests.
  • 1952 co-hosted with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra, the first national telethon ever produced, a fund-raiser to help send America's Olympic athletes to Helsinki.
  • 1953 to 1954 - appeared on the NBC Television Network as co-host of "7 to 8," one of the fledgling industry's first infotainment shows immediately preceding "The Today Show" with Dave Garroway on the West Coast.
  • 1960 - the subject of Ralph Edwards prime-time NBC hit show "This is Your Life."
  • 1965 - was accredited as KMPC's White House Correspondent.
  • 1969 to 1971 - hosted KTLA's "Johnny Grant at Universal Studios," featuring celebrities from all walks of life and capturing some of their more candid conversations.
  • 1976 - producer and host of "Operation Understanding" in Washington, D.C.
  • 1978 - signed on as parade producer.
  • 1980 - received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1980 for his contributions to television and for his massive involvement in and support of the Hollywood community.
  • 1982 - awarded The Order of California, the State's highest honor.
  • 1987 - awarded the "Wrangler Award" by The Cowboy Hall of Fame in recognition of his outstanding contributions to America's western heritage through television programming.
  • 1987 - presented "Legends of News Award from The Los Angeles Press Club.
  • 1988 - the Los Angeles Area Governor's Award.
  • 1990 - awarded a second Order of California.
  • 1992 - selected by the United Nations as United Nations Day Chairman.
  • 1992 - head of a delegation of entertainment and military representatives traveling to Moscow to meet with Kremlin, Moscow City Government and Church leaders to discuss areas of mutual concern.
  • 1995 - Mayors and former Mayors of Los Angeles - Sam Yorty, Tom Bradley and Richard Riordan dedicate "The Johnny Grant Building" on Hollywood Boulevard.
  • 1997 - the first recipient of the USO's highest honor - The Spirit of Hope Award - presented to him aboard the USS Intrepid.
  • 1999 - recalled to temporary active duty to promote and produce events saluting the California National Guard on its 150th Birthday.
  • Served as producer and host of the United States Marine Corps Reserve's "Toys For Tots" Telethon for ten years.
  • Has emceed more than 5,000 civic and charity events hundreds of these events, raising millions of dollars for the USO, Boy Scouts of America, the Arthritis Foundation, police and fire services, veterans organizations, etc.
  • Has made 14 tours to combat bases throughout Vietnam, 15 trips to Korea and 55 USO and personally-organized visits to bring laughter, encouragement and the spirit of America to GIs overseas.
  • The first - and only - recipient of the Bob Hope Combat Entertainer Award from the International Korean War Veterans Association for his entertainment tours to the front lines.
  • A recipient of the Combat Entertainer's Badge (CEB), presented by the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam.

Read more about  Johnny Grant

Photos used with permission from the Johnny Grant Archives and are Copyright © Johnny Grant and their respective photographers

 



                       

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