Working for George Steinbrenner, I was always so lucky to meet some of the greatest movie stars in history. Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, James Cagney, you name it.
When the Yankees won the 1976 pennant against the Kansas City Royals, The Boss actually brought Cary Grant to the celebration in the clubhouse. The players were so excited to see the incredible Cary Grant there that Thurman Munson started screaming, “Judy, Judy, Judy!” which was a famous Grant line. The next thing you know, the whole clubhouse was chanting, “Judy, Judy, Judy!”
As Grant, who was known as the coolest movie star in the world, jumped up and down drenched in champagne, I actually touched him because I didn’t believe he was real. Grant actually turned to me and said, in his charming English accent, “More real than you know.” Then we started to laugh.
A year later, Reggie Jackson came to the Yankees and at that time Reggie was baseball’s version of Clark Gable. He was a baseball player and movie star wrapped into one. At the time, he was doing more commercials than any other athlete. When he asked me to be in his Volkswagon commercial, I got the acting bug. During the Reggie Yankee Era, I probably did eight or nine commercials, including Panasonic Products and Old Spice.
That would lead to a co-starring role in a movie for Warner Brothers. It was called Blue Skies Again, which starred Andy Garcia and Joey Gian.
I was then offered a part as a glorified extra playing a waiter in the film The Cotton Club, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Richard Gere, Nicholas Cage and Gregory Hines. Can you believe that?
On my first day at the set of Astoria Studios, I was shocked when I first met Richard Gere, who treated me and all the other extras like we were his equals. The amazing thing about Richard was that he was very consistent in his treatment of us. I was also amazed at how hard he practiced and rehearsed. There was nothing Richard couldn’t do. Great actor, dancer and he can play some instruments.
Every day, I would watch in amazement at all of this man’s talents. But the thing I loved the most about Richard, just like The Boss, just like Billy Martin and Reggie and Thurman, he treated a kid that came from nothing like somebody.
Thirty years later, he is still a great movie star, a wonderful father of his son Homer that Richard loves so much.
Selfishly, I say he is my pal.
Happy birthday Richard Gere. I don’t know about an officer, but he is sure a gentleman and the Cary Grant of the 21st century.