Eddie and Me
The other afternoon Dody and I watched a 1940 movie, Brother Orchid, starring Edward G. Robinson, to see just what it was Eddie and I had in common. Over the years, in the days when I was a young man and he was still alive, we had developed a pretty strong relationship. But one he never knew about.
It began in 1942, when I joined a group of British officers and a sprinkling of Americans as guests of the Italian government. Within days of my arrival with remnants of my bomber crew, the Brits nicknamed me “Little Caesar” because they thought I looked like the star of that eponymous (I love showing off with that word) character in the classic gangster film. Though my nickname was subsequently shortened to “Caesar,” I knew they meant the star of Little Caesar, Edward G. Robinson, not Julius.
Later, after a period of further rest and recreation under German auspices, marriage and stints with the Houston Post, the alleged resemblance was noted by friends and readers of my newspaper column but not enough to annoy me. And you know what? I missed it. I had started smoking cigars during my sojourn abroad so I tried sticking a cigar in my mouth and doing the actor’s voice but it didn’t work. I sounded as much like Mickey Mouse as I did like Edward G.
Then my family and I moved to Los Angeles. I thought if we could only be invited to one of those Hollywood parties we’d read about I might get a chance to meet the man himself and see once and for all how we really matched up. Naturally, we never got invited to one of those big Hollywood parties.
I looked for him in the streets, too, but never saw him. Or any other star. You seldom see television or movie stars running around loose in Los Angeles. We did drive by a convertible on Hollywood Boulevard with Bobby Darrin in the back seat. And we saw Gregory Peck at the Contemporary Art Museum with his daughter-in-law and grandson. We didn’t say, “Hi,” of course. Didn’t want to break his concentration on the art.
When I began being published regularly, I occasionally got on talk shows promoting books. Sometimes the host would comment on my alleged resemblance to Mr. Eddie, usually this way, “Has anyone ever told you you look like a movie star?”
“Yes, “I would answer. “Like Gregory Peck.”
You see, I have admired Mr. Peck since long before I saw him in person at the Contemporary Art Museum.
And once, on a talk show in San Diego (one of my first interviews after Von Ryan’s Express was published was a personable, eager young Regis Philbin, who was doing a TV show in San Diego). The host asked if I had a cigar. I did, and offered him one. But he didn’t want it for himself. He wanted me to light up. I did. He turned to the studio audience .
“Who does he look like?” he demanded.
Before anyone could answer, I rushed to make my standard reply, “Gregory Peck.”
But I was drowned out by at least a dozen voices shouting the name of the actor I allegedly resembled.
At last we were invited to one of those Hollywood parties. Well, not a real party. Just an afternoon reception at La Scala Restaurant in Beverly Hills. Shep Fields, the “Rippling Rhythm” orchestra leader, whom we had known in Houston, got us the invitation.
Who did we see, sitting apart from the bustling celebrities and ordinary folks? Little Caesar, that’s who. His wife was at the reception, too. Dody recognized her from her picture in the paper. Dody led me over to Mrs. Robinson.
“This my husband,” she said. “Do you think he looks like yours?”
Mrs. Robinson studied me a moment.
“Not really,” she said and then, after a pause, “Maybe a little.”
This did not satisfy Dody. She led me over to where Edward G. was sitting.
“Mr. Robinson,” she said, “has anyone ever told you you looked like David Westheimer?”
He looked at us, appearing to be thinking it over. And then he spoke.
“Who?” he said.