John Frederick never met a camera he didn't like, and the feeling was mutual. It's little wonder the actor with the sturdy physique and photogenic face was sought for roles in theater, motion pictures, and television, ranging from hero rancher to despicable villain, from Broadway baritone to movie Tarzan, from big-screen devout cardinal to little-screen hunky Superman.
Frederick's autobiography traces his story from his beginning in rural Iowa where the star-struck farm boy sold his prize calf to fund a trip to Hollywood. The stardust remained in his eyes and the pull of the theater infused his blood. After he returned to his home state for college and a stint with the more conventional job of school teaching, his rendition of Irving Berlin's flag-waving song, "God Bless America," in a movie talent contest during the early days of World War II won him a screen test at RKO.
The adventure had begun. It took him into the theatrical boot camp of little theater, which led to leads on the Broadway stage, which led to a lifetime of hundreds of roles, major and minor, in all showbiz media.
Along the way, Frederick's chosen profession put him next to history being made. Touring the front lines in Ten Little Indians for the USO, he saw war and GIs in raw closeup. Later during his years in Rome he appeared in films for legendary directors Sergio Leone, Luchino Visconte and Federico Fellini, and there he met Oleg Vidov, Russia's Robert Redford, whom he would later help to defect to the United States with some string-pulling assistance from an old Iowa family friend, President Ronald Reagan. Also down the road, he married a movie starlet, chatted with Clark Gable over adjacent urinals, appeared opposite Mae West on Broadway, had tea with Princess Grace at the Monaco palace, escorted Elizabeth Taylor as a "cover" when she and Richard Burton were meeting in public during their clandestine romance, and shared a newspaper with Garbo on a park bench in Switzerland.
He appeared in such films as The Ten Commandments, The Shoes of the Fisherman, Cleopatra, and as Lord of the Jungle in Tarzan Meets His Mate, and on television series such as Superman, Bonanza, Twilight Zone, Tales of Wells Fargo, Death Valley Days, and Playhouse 90 with Helen Hayes.
Now retired on his ranch-style home in Palm Springs, John Frederick has the leisure to look back on a full life. But friends enrich our lives more than all else, so says John, and his included Mae West, Elizabeth Taylor, Ginger Rogers, and Ronald Reagan. "The past was magnificent, but the future looks even brighter."
Debbie Reynolds: You warmly share your colorful life and rewarding Broadway and film careers in your memoir, Name Droppings on Your Head. It's great fun, dear friend, witty and touching, a chuckle and a tear, and a mesmerizing flash-back of fond and cherished memories, many of them shared with you, John, our beloved Thalians, and when Hollywood was at its magical best.
Jane Wyman: Congratulations on your provocative new memoir, Name Droppings on Your Head. It's so very heartwarming to read about and remember those by-gone golden days of Hollywood. You write with wit and wisdom.
Charles (Buddy) Rogers: Beverly and I thoroughly enjoyed your absorbing and entertaining memoir, John, reliving again filmdom's fabulous golden era with its fabulous times and its remarkable stars. What a treat!
Linda Christian: I couldn't put it down, John, a real winner! What an era, what glamour, what stars! You tell it all and just as it was. And what a captivating brick road you do take us down: passionate, insightful, heartwarming, and fun too. Two thumbs up, way up!
Alice Faye: What a joyous journey down memory lane, John! I loved your book, every word of it, plus all those exciting photos. A total pleasure!
Table of Contents
1. In the Beginning
2. Hello Hollywood - The Saga of the Fatted Calf
3. The College Rush
4. Broadway Beckons - Briefly
5. War Clouds Gather
6. Hollywood Beckons
7. Marital Madness - A Dash to the Border
8. Broadway Beckons - Not So Briefly
9. Mae West - Come Up and See Me
10. WW II - The Front Lines - ETO - USO
11. The Birth of a Nation
12. Dachau - The Concentration Camp
13. Bob Hope - Move Over
14. A Resurrection - Wagner's Piano
15. Homeward Bound - Both Coasts - Iowa Too
16. Return Engagement - Broadway
17. Return Engagement - Tinseltown
18. Broadway Revisited
19. A New Challenge - A New Adventure
20. Keeping the Promise
21. Hallelujah! Back on Broadway
22. Cinecitta on the Tiber
23. A New Pontiff
24. The Stockholm Travesty
25. Arrivaderci Roma
26. Monaco and the Princess
27. Home Again - A Sordid Tale
28. Nob Hill Paradise
29. A Career - Modest But New
30. A New President Beckons
31. Hollywood - The Final Once-Over
32. Another Desert Oasis
33. The Defection - Russo Style
34. John Frederick Day - Iowa Style
35. Palm Springs - A New Beginning
The phone awakened me from a deep sleep. It was my agent. Paul Small was a kingpin among his Hollywood peers. He had clout. Being married to the sister of MGM's new head honcho, Dore Schary, had its advantages. Oh yeah!
"John Wayne saw you on Wild Bill Hickok last night," he said, "And wants to see you this afternoon at his Batjac Offices out on Sunset Strip. I'll meet you there." Agent Small rarely showed emotion about anything. This morning was an exception - he was almost vociferous.
Over the years this man had become my mentor and friend. Only he was able to budge me away from my first love - Broadway - for a crack at Hollywood. Following every Broadway opening there had been offers, some even lucrative. Backstage he would introduce me to many of the Hollywood heavyweights - Hitchcock, De Mille, Wilder, Koster, etc. - then would simply say, "But not yet." He had a strategy and I never questioned it. Also, I preferred being right where I was - on The Great White Way.
John Wayne in person was exactly the same as his on-screen persona - friendly, looked you straight in the eye, a bit ill at ease maybe, but to the point. "You looked like you knew what you were doing last night on Wild Bill Hickok." (To the point) "Great show. I admire Bill Broidy. Knows how to produce a Western. Where'd you learn to ride a horse like that, John?" (Again, to the point.) "Well, Mr. Morrison," I dared (since he was born Marion Morrison), "Probably within the same five miles of where you did - you back in Winterset, Iowa and myself down the road in Norwalk." "You donâ€™t say," he drawled, then repeated, "You don't say. I'll tell you John, for a long time I've wanted to get back and visit the folks there. The cemetery is full of Morrisions. They came there originally in covered wagons in the mid-1850s, you know, got snowed in one awful winter on their trek west. With the coming of Spring they saw how beautiful and bountiful the land was, named the town and settled t! here - and there I was born. Where they Winter settled became Winterset." [Editor's note: Now famous for The Bridges of Madison County.]
"Wow," I said, "And incredible because my family too came there in covered wagons about the same time, built the first church, preached its first sermon and named the town Norwalk. You see, there was only one well, so all the local settlers had to walk to the north end of town for their life sustaining water. The Northwalk soon became Norwalk." "What a hell of a coincidence," John Wayne again drawled. "That beats all."
That afternoon John Wayne and I shared our early and mutual childhood beginnings. These early years seemed genuinely important to him. They had always been important to me. On the spot we had bonded.
Blue Dolphin Publishing, 1999