Mason Reese

Interview by Dennis Morgillo

Mason Reese
Author - Dennis Morgillo
Mason Reese was the biggest child star of the 1970’s, possibly of all time. He was a regular on Tv Talk Shows like The Mike Douglass Show, he filmed over 75 commercials and won a Cleo award. He was on the cover of TV Guide and filmed a pilot for his own TV Show. He is an Actor, Musician, Manager, and Entrepreneur. He has a new Pilot in the works 'Life Interrupted'. We caught up with Mason at the East Village eatery ‘Guac’ (179 Avenue B) in NYC.  

Madhouse: Your most famous commercial was for ‘Underwood Deviled Ham’, for which you won a Cleo Award. What is Deviled Ham?
Mason Reese: I will be honest with you, I never tasted Deviled Ham. I never ate the product, but I did go to the factory and it was very well made. It is 95% Ham and 5% spices. It’s still out there, people love it. 

Madhouse: In society, people feel they know celebrities and they can take certain liberties. Did people ever cross boundaries with you?
Mason: Absolutely. Women would sometime come up to me on the street and ask me for some of my hair, so they could send it to Clairol and get a color match of my hair color. When you come into peoples living rooms on a daily basis, they do feel you are part of their life, and they want to touch you. 

Madhouse: I saw a clip of you singing and dancing on the Mike Douglas show with Danny Thomas and Alan King. Now these guys are absolute legends, did you realize the importance of who they were at the time?
Mason: I knew who Danny Thomas was because I watched Make Room for Daddy. These guys were bigger than icons, true legends, but it was an incredible experience for a 7 year old to perform with these guys, and hold my own. 

Madhouse: You were on the Mike Douglas show over 30 times. That is an incredible feat.
Mason : Yes I was on 32 times total. I got the second most fan letters after Burt Reynolds. Burt beat me, I don’t mind that, I don’t mind coming in second to Burt.  I was a very popular guest on his show.

Madhouse: Mike Douglas seemed to really love you, did you stay in touch with him over the years?
Mason: There are very few regrets that I have had in my life, I don’t live with regrets, but, I truly regret not staying in touch with Mike. Unfortunately he passed away now, and it was very emotional for me. He truly made my career and formed me into who I am today. Not keeping in contact with Mike was something I truly regret. 

Madhouse: You were a huge part of pop culture of the 1970’s and it brings back wonderful memories of a time gone by. I saw you interacting with Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek on the Mike Douglas show and it was a wonderful glimpse into the 1970s.
Mason: Yes Nimoy was a cool dude. With his 70’s patchwork denim suit, he oozed cool when he walked into the room. The Mike Douglas show was a true variety show and he had A list guests of all kinds, but the one guest he longed for but never was able to get on the show was Sinatra.  

Madhouse: You reached this incredible fame from TV commercials, and you were on the cover of TV Guide, which was highly unusual for a TV Commercial Star.  
Mason: Yes no one was ever on the cover of TV Guide before or since, except for Movie Stars, or a star of a TV Show. I was the first and last star of commercials to appear on the cover. 

Madhouse: On the cover of TV Guide, you are wearing this cool top hat. Where did you get that hat from? 
Mason: Alice Cooper gave that hat to legendary comedian Jerry Stiller, of the team Stiller and Meara, and of course Ben Stiller’s Father. Jerry then gave the hat to me. The hat is in the hollywood museum on loan for a child star exhibit. 

Madhouse: You filmed a Pilot for your own TV series, which was very funny, what happened with that? Why was it not picked up? 
Mason: I thought it was very funny as well, and Barry Nelson who played my father was a very well known Broadway and Film Actor.  Network Head Fred Silverman just came over from CBS to ABC, and Fred was known for not wanting to do any projects that he did not initiate. He stated “I Love Mason but I hate the show.” Fred then put up the money to write a new script and shoot a new pilot, but the script was terrible. The original pilot aired July 4th at 8pm on ABC, which is a horrible time slot, but it got the second highest ratings ever, in that time slot. Silverman would still not pick up the show, it was all about ego. 

Madhouse: Now what kept you so grounded? Why did you not go down the road of some other child stars? 
Mason: I would have to say 100%, it was because of my parents. I am part of an organization ‘A Minor Consideration’ which is the number one child welfare advocacy group for performers under the age of 18.  The truth is, that of the thousands and thousands of performers under the age of 18, only a very small percentage have fallen apart. We all get lumped into this group,and I understand that, but not everyone of us carries a gun, robs liquor stores and smokes crack. It is just like society, a very small percentage of society as a whole falls apart as well. 

Madhouse: Are you friends with other child stars?
Mason: I was friends with quite a few of them including Gary Coleman. Which was very hard at times and unfortunately, he was one of those that fell apart. He had bad health conditions, and had a hard time dealing with the business as well. 

Madhouse: You are a musician as well? 
Mason: Yes I played the drums in a lot of rock and soul, R&B bands. Robbie Rist who played Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch, is an extremely talented musician who has a few bands in L.A. Whenever I go out to L.A, I get up and jam with him. 

Madhouse: What are your musical tastes? What are your favorite bands?
Mason: Tower of Power is my favorite band of all time. I also love The Stones, The Beatles, Led Zep. I am a big Chicago fan. I am also a fan of big band and swing music, I actually got to hang out with Buddy Rich for a few years before he passed away. 

Madhouse: During the 1980’s you were hanging out a lot in NYC and hobnobbing with celebrities.
Mason: Yes I did a lot of hanging out, but I never drank or did drugs. I certainly was not an Angel, I had a lot of fun. I used to hang at clubs like ‘The China Club’, ‘Limelight’, ‘The Saint’, tons of places. 

Madhouse: You owned your own clubs as well?
Mason: Yes I opened up my first place in 1995, in the West Village in NYC, and then after 20 years I got out of it. It’s a very hard business. 

Madhouse: You have a management company now?
Mason: Yes the Mason Reese Management Company. I am working with a bunch of young kids, bands, musicians, in NY, Florida and L.A. It’s very challenging now, with the music business in it’s current state. 

Madhouse: Now tell us about this new Pilot you are involved in?
Mason: Alison Arngrim who played ‘Nellie Olson’ on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ plays my Ex-Wife. Erin Murphy, ‘Tabitha’ on ‘Bewitched’ plays her wife. We also have Michel Learned from the ‘Waltons’, Robbie Rist from the ‘Brady Bunch’, and Dawn Wells, ‘Maryann’ on Gilligan’s Island plays my Mother in Law. It’s a very fast paced and funny show. We are very excited about the show and will be shopping the show around. Stay tuned.

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