Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Loved Ronald Reagan and my Grandfather

I loved Ronald Reagan and my Grandfather
Posted January 29, 2012 by William Byron Hillman

The two men didn’t know each other. Fact is, they never met but they would’ve liked one another because of who they were and what they believed. They were both men of few words.

I met Ron (no disrespect intended) when he was still an actor and I was a kid just getting started. He was a client at the MCA agency at the time. Months after we met, I wrote him a note asking for an introduction to an agent. He wrote me back with the nicest letter I had ever received. It was a hand written note, which I still have today. His letter was simple and to the point. He introduced me to his agent Arthur Park, gave me his direct line, and told me to call him. Mr. Park was a partner in The Chasin-Park-Citron Agency. MCA had shuttered and three of their prominent agents had formed the new agency. I called Art. He was expecting my call and I became a client of the agency.

You might say I couldn’t make up my mind what it was I wanted to do until I got a running start at things. I started as a singer/actor. I gave up the singing, joined the cast of Days of our Lives when it first went on the air, and then worked on Ice Station Zebra with Rock Hudson, Ernie Borgnine, Patrick McGoohan, director John Sturges, producers Martin Ransohoff and John Calley, screenwriter Douglas Heyes and film editor Ferris Webster. This film gave my career the legs it needed.

My grandfather taught me many things, but first and foremost was to always believe in my abilities and never give up on my dreams. He also told me to glance in the mirror first thing in the morning and smile at the image. He said a frown would spoil the day, but a smile increased my chances of having a great day one hundred percent. I’ve never forgotten that advice and smile daily at that guy looking back at me in the mirror.

Ronald Reagan told me to believe in myself because if I didn’t, no one else would either. We weren’t friends by any measure, but whenever I saw him he always took the time to stop and ask how I was. On one occasion he told me if I ever needed his help, to not hesitate to call him. I stored that away and promised not to abuse the offer. He was, after all, a man of his word like my grandfather.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family. Had it not been for my grandfather, the path I chose to follow would have been altered quite drastically. Grandpa had rules and if I disobeyed them his punishment came in the form of silence. He never yelled or cursed at me. There was no humiliation or belittling, he just stopped talking to me. A beating would have been better. Every time he did this I was crushed and soon learned if I behaved his reward came in the form of attention, love and kind words. The rebel inside me died a slow death, but once gone, I was freed from argumentative behavior. He always said if I needed him, ask for help and be outspoken. Like Ronald Reagan, he too meant it.

My parents always told me I was wasting my time writing. My grandpa encouraged me and so did Ron. My mother said I was a freak and too tall to accomplish anything. My grandfather took me to a tall-man convention where I was the shortest guy in the building. Suddenly I wasn’t a freak anymore.

Years later I was directing one of my first films, a low-budget project entitled, “The Man From Clover Grove.” Ronald Reagan was governor at the time and vowed to help filmmakers who shot their films in California. Our film was an impossible dream with a budget of $50,000. I chose to shoot the film as an all-union production. During principal photography the Fire Marshall came along and shut us down. He said we didn’t have enough water trucks and were a fire hazard. I told him I would call the governor and he laughed and said go ahead. He followed me into the production office where I placed a call to the governor’s office. I didn’t hesitate when the secretary answered and told her I needed to talk to Ron. She was stunned I referred to the governor as Ron and assumed I had to be a close friend. She put the call right through. I reminded Ron of who I was and told him my production had been shut down. He asked me to put the Fire Marshall on the phone. I heard the man say; “Yes, sir, okay sir, yes Governor I’ll do that. Thank you sir.” He handed the phone back and I heard Ron tell me to go make a great movie. The Fire Marshall posted men and water trucks around the parameter of our movie site for the duration of our shoot and they did it without costing us a dime. Ronald Reagan, like my grandfather, was a man of his word. He said what he meant and meant what he said. I got the help he promised and we finished the film on time, budget and schedule.

My agent told me to write in a variety of genres rather than stick to just one and said my chances to succeed would double. I’ve done that in screenwriting, in my film projects and now in novels. I wrote about my filmmaking beginning in “Zebra’s Rock and Me.” I used zany characters to create a detective team in the Rollie Kemp novels “Ghosts and Phantoms Part I – The Beginning” and “Ghosts and Phantoms Part II – The Conclusion” and in the third and up-coming book “Bad Rap.” I wrote my biography in “The Hard Way” because I’ve been told my life has been so bizarre no one would believe it, and then I turned back to one of my favorite screenplays “Veronique and Murray.” The script was sold five times to various independent companies and re-written on each occasion and yet it never got produced. I retained the rights and decided to write the novel. Veronique and Murray are unique characters like many we’ve all met in our lifetime.

Few have had the pleasure of meeting and befriending a man like Ronald Reagan just like few are blessed to have had a wonderful grandfather like the one I had. They were two great men who in simple terms and understanding knew how to guide and help build character and offer encouragement to a free spirit. If we had more men like Ronald Reagan and my grandfather, our world would be a better place all around.

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