In the 1970s, as members of the Frank Sinatra Appreciation Society, my wife, Shirley, and I organised a trip to Hollywood and Las Vegas. It was so successful that we carried on organising showbiz-related trips for the next 22 years, enabling us to meet many of the great names of Hollywood.
Here are some memories of a few of the stars I met in Hollywood.
Frank Gorshin: he played the Riddler in the Batman TV series for many years but he was also a brilliant impressionist and nightclub entertainer. He even did an impression of me in his act when I took our group to see his show in Los Angeles.
He was one of my best friends in Hollywood and I was in his company many times. I spent a week with him in Las Vegas in May 1995, when he was starring as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls at the Desert Inn. He often phoned me at home here in the UK and sent me videos of his act.
He made several films including a great western called Warlock with Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark (1959) and The Bells are Ringing with Dean Martin (1960).
He was also in many other films, including Twelve Monkeys (1995) with Bruce Willis. We had long discussions about these movies and the major stars he had worked with.
Frank Sinatra: my late wife and I were invited to visit his office in Hollywood but he was unfortunately out of town that day. He instructed his secretary to show us around, which was fascinating, and he later sent us a wonderful personally signed picture with a long inscription.
He also sent us some small gifts including cigarette lighters, key rings, handkerchiefs and medallions, all with his name on them. He had many signed photos of US presidents on his wall, from Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Ford, Carter etc. Also pictures of his family were on the desk and his two Oscars.
It was wonderful to be in his office seeing all his personal photos etc but sad that we didn’t meet him. We did meet his son, Frank Jnr, in Las Vegas some years later and he dedicated a song to us during his act.
Doris Day: she owns a hotel in Carmel, the Cypress Inn, and one afternoon she came to the hotel specially to meet our group. She was charming and spent the entire afternoon with us signing autographs, posing for pictures and chatting with everyone. A really delightful and adorable lady.
Bob Hope: I was personally introduced to Bob Hope by the Mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant. He had appeared with Bob Hope in the film Beau James (1957) and with Bing Crosby in White Christmas (1954).
Johnny was a good friend and opened many doors for me in Hollywood, making my tours unique. He lived in the penthouse at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and I had breakfast with him every morning in the hotel restaurant.
He told Bob Hope that I brought these groups over from England and ironically some of them on that tour were from Eltham, Bob Hope’s home town, so he was especially pleased to chat with them.
Clint Eastwood: I met Clint Eastwood twice. First, at Warner Brothers film studios, where he was editing his latest Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact (1983) and he showed my group some scenes from it. That was a real thrill considering that it had not even been released in America then so we had an advance preview.
A few years later we met him again, also at Warner Bros, and he spent more time with us on that occasion and shook hands with every member of the group, signed autographs, posed for pictures with us and answered questions.
Jerry Lewis: I met Jerry Lewis several times, first at the London Palladium in the 60s, when I took some pictures of him at the stage door. I sent him copies which he signed and returned to me.
Years later I was with him again in Las Vegas and he gave me his monogrammed handkerchief as a souvenir. The last time I saw him was in October 2006 in Las Vegas during his annual telethon.
George Chakiris: he won an Oscar for the musical West Side Story (1961) and he has been in many films, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) with Marilyn Monroe. He was one of the dancers in a production number with her.
I first met George at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. He was in the lobby and I asked him if he would come over and meet my group, which he did.
Some years later he came to England, starring in Jane Eyre so I went to see him when the show came to Eastbourne. A few weeks later I was on holiday in Yorkshire and the show was at Bradford Alhambra so I went backstage and surprised him again there.
Frankie Laine: he was a very popular American singer who toured Britain in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He sang the title song for Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), the Rawhide TV series and other westerns.
He lived in San Diego and in 1988 I was asked by his fan club to arrange a tour to celebrate his 75th birthday. We were all invited to his house, where he had put on drinks and snacks and later that week we all went to his birthday party. He also did a mini concert specially for us.
We did it all again for his 80th birthday and five years on we did it again for his 85th. I can’t imagine many stars of his calibre who would have all those fans descend on his private house.
Debbie Reynolds: she owned a hotel in Las Vegas and my groups used to stay at her hotel year after year. She was very grateful to me for this and always met the entire group and posed for pictures with them.
After her shows she usually had pictures taken with audience members at $20 a time, which was good business for her but she didn’t charge us when she met my groups.
On one occasion before her show, when I had a particularly large group with me, she said to me: “I’ll make you look good tonight, Clive” – and she certainly did! She must have mentioned my name over 20 times during her performance and sang a love song dedicated to me. How I wish I had a video copy of that show.
Stella Stevens: she is another actress I had the pleasure to meet several times. I asked her if she would come to the hotel and talk to our group and she kindly agreed.
Stella Stevens was in The Nutty Professor (1963) with Jerry Lewis and, of course, The Poseidon Adventure (1972), with Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine, and many other films, including some notable westerns with Glenn Ford.
When she came to the hotel to meet our group she brought along her friend, Troy Donahue, who had been a screen heart throb in the 50s and 60s with films such as A Summer Place (1959), Parrish (1961) and A Distant Trumpet (1964).
He was also in The Godfather – Part Two (1974). He played a character called Merle Johnson, which is, in fact, his real name. They both signed autographs, posed for individual pictures with members of our group and were very friendly.
Aldo Ray: he was staying at the same hotel as our group on one of our tours so I got to know him quite well. He had worked with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Pat and Mike (1952) and with Humphrey Bogart on We’re No Angels in 1955 so I was very interested to hear his opinions of what it had been like working with these legendary stars.
One evening our group had just boarded the bus for our night tour when I spotted Aldo Ray walking along the street so I asked him if he would come on the bus and say a few words to the group, which he did. The group were delighted.
Some of the stars I met only the once but others I met several times and they became friends and knew my name, which was a wonderful feeling for me.
I also got to know many Hollywood character actors such as Marie Windsor, Mike Mazurki, Richard Jaeckel, William Campbell, Anthony Caruso, Lawrence Tierney, Kathleen Freeman, Fritz Feld, Vito Scotti, Fayard Nicholas, Marc Lawrence, Robert Fuller, Robert Horton, Don Stroud, James Drury, Stephen MacNally, Virginia O’Brien, Penny Singleton, Anne Francis and too many others to list here.
I had as much pleasure knowing them as some of the big stars. I had grown up seeing them in so many Hollywood movies they were like old friends.
Clive Roberts, born John Highley, grew up in the Willowfield area of Halifax, attending Warley Road School before being apprenticed as a compositor at the Courier soon after the second world war.
He developed an early interest in showbusiness, attending his local cinema, the Palladium, at King Cross. He also wanted to be a magician and at the age of 12 he adopted the name Clive Roberts as a stage name.
In the mid-1940s Clive worked backstage at the Palace Theatre in Halifax, getting to know the variety stars who appeared there.
After the Palace closed in 1959 Clive headed for the bright lights of London, where he managed to get work back stage, on lights, props, etc at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the Adelphi and Raymond’s Revue Bar.
He then moved to Eastbourne for a season backstage with the comedian Cyril Fletcher. There he also met and married his wife, Shirley; he also changed he name to Roberts legally.
In the 1970s, as members of the Frank Sinatra Appreciation Society, Clive and Shirley organised a trip to Hollywood and Las Vegas. It attracted 101 customers and was so successful that the couple continued to organise showbiz-related shows for the next 22 years, enabling Clive to meet many of the great names of Hollywood, from Doris Day to Clint Eastwood and Bob Hope to Debbie Reynolds.
Shirley died in 2005 and Clive returned to Yorkshire, living in Otley. Now aged 78, Clive still gives talks on the Golden Years of Holywood to local clubs and societies.