BITS and PIECES # 13


December 7, 2012 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 13

Hello from Luquillo,

Since the presidential election is over, and its furor and vitriolic cacophony has subsided somewhat – I feel it’s now safe to recall (and relate) how I accidentally had a close encounter with a future president — through a chance meeting with an old family friend.  Here are the details — as best as I can remember them after so many years have elapsed:


Actor Peter Lawford is remembered mostly by folks over 60 (boomers and geezers) – not so much by those who are slightly younger, and probably not at all by the current generation…

For the uninitiated, at the start of his career in the 1940s, and later in the 50s, Lawford was a popular MGM contract player, appearing opposite June Allyson, Greer Garson, Esther Williams, Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Holliday among others. He also starred in the popular ‘Thin Man’ TV series in the mid-50s.  For a while, in the 70’s and 80’s, he was a charter member of Frank Sinatra’s infamous ‘Rat Pack’ along with Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr., appearing with them in films and television productions until he and Sinatra had a falling-out. Sadly, in later years he gradually faded from view in films and TV, only rarely seen in the ensuing years before his death in 1984 at age 61…

When I was a little boy, he was the older brother I never had, for a short time – my parents had welcomed Peter and his parents, Sidney and May Lawford to stay with us in our Beverly Hills home while they searched for permanent quarters in the Los Angeles area, after moving west from Palm Beach, Florida. They ended-up staying with us for a month or two, during which time Peter and I became ‘buddies’, despite the vast difference in our ages (he was 16, I was 5)…

Through the years our families stayed in touch after the Lawfords moved into their new home off Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood – re-connecting occasionally at dinner parties and various other social events…

In 1957, after completing active military service, I was studying at UCLA while working a part-time job – a hectic schedule that left scant time for anything else.  One sunny Saturday morning, I left the bachelor digs in Hermosa Beach that I shared with Dick Nichols, a high school friend and fellow veteran, and drove my rusting 48 Plymouth to CBS Television City.  My father was working with Dick Powell on the popular ‘Four Star Playhouse TV production ‘Dante’s Inferno’ on sound stage 42. Between ‘takes’ dad suggested that I walk across to sound stage 33, where Peter was starring in ‘The Thin Man’ series with Phyllis Kirk.

I hadn’t seen Peter for a long while, so I eagerly wandered between sound stages and found his dressing room-trailer parked near the set. Since there was no filming going on at the moment, I assumed that he was relaxing in his trailer between ‘takes’.

I knocked on the door, and a moment later it was opened by Peter – when he saw who it was, he bellowed “My goodness, Butch! So good to see you, your dad told me you might be stopping by”. Looking past him I realized that there were some others in the trailer – I said “You have guests, Peter, I can come back later when you’re not busy” — “Nonsense” Peter said, taking my arm and pulling me inside — turning to his guests he smiled broadly and said “This is my little brother Butch Mowbray” (yes, regrettably, my childhood nickname was indeed ‘Butch’) – and then, turning to me he continued ” Butch, this is my wife Pat, my brother-in-law Jack Kennedy and his wife Jackie.” We all shook hands and chatted for a while and then there was a knock on the trailer’s door and Peter was called for another scene. I unobtrusively excused myself and walked back to sound stage 42 to find Dad and take him out for lunch…

During the next few years I didn’t’ think much more about reconnecting with Peter and meeting his ‘in-laws’ – I was far too busy juggling schoolwork, my part-time job with Douglas Aircraft, and later, my entry-level engineering position with SDC, a Santa Monica based ‘Think tank’,  while striving to squeeze-in a semblance of social life – that is until 1960 when it suddenly penetrated my thick skull – newly married by then, with a year old son, I had just concluded an engineering field trip that took me to the US Air Force’s Experimental Sage Site (ESS) at North Truro Air Force Station on the northern tip of Cape Cod — as I was driving back to Boston’ Logan airport, I passed through a town – I think it may have been Barnstable. On the outskirts, I notice a fairly large crowd of people surrounding a pickup truck — standing in the truck’s bed, addressing the crowd with a megaphone, was someone vaguely familiar – it was Senator John F. Kennedy – the Democratic party’s candidate for president of the United States – I stopped to listen to what he was saying and was captivated as much by his fervor and vivacity as I was by his compelling message…

I have always been (rightfully) accused of being a little slow on the uptake, so, when I arrived back in Los Angeles a few days later, I phoned my mother (a fervent, life-long Democrat) to tell her about witnessing the senator’s impromptu speech to the crowd on Cape Cod, and how much I was impressed with what he said, she declared “Have you forgotten that he is Peter’s brother-in-law — and that you met Senator Kennedy and his attractive wife when you visited Peter on the set of the ‘Thin Man’ in 1957?”  Of course I had, until she reminded me…

In retrospect, I regretted that I had failed to put ‘two and two together’ and then waited around to say hello — but I sensed that he probably wouldn’t have remembered our previous brief encounter anyway. Like so many other young people that year, I voted for Jack Kennedy in November – I was 22, and it was my first-ever presidential vote — I eagerly followed the always exciting arc of his presidential career thereafter – from his stirring inaugural address through the tense days of the Cuban missile crisis and finally, I mourned with the nation at the news of his untimely and tragic assassination in 1963…

So, that’s the story of my second close encounter of the future presidential kind. The first?  A chance meeting with a chap named Reagan at the Hollywood Farmers Market sometime in the late 1940s – he stopped by our table to chat with my father — he had recently become a fellow officer in the Screen Actors Guild, a labor union my father and a few other like-minded actors organized in the 1930s – but that’s a story for another day…

© 2012 – Alan Mowbray Jr.



One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 13

  1. Christine says:

    Well, you should know by now that I love your stories.. I remember the photo you sent me of Peter Lawford with you and your dad in the back yard by the pool..Thanks again for sharing once again… I’m your #1 FAN!!!!

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