Feature: Remembering Vernon Scott

By TOBIN BECK   |   Feb. 23, 2003 at 9:54 AM   |   0 comments

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LOS ANGELES, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Most of all, a good man -- that's how family and friends remember veteran United Press International Hollywood reporter Vernon Scott, an earthy, complex and friendly gentleman who told the truth but was kind and decent in the telling.

"He was a good man," said Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who regularly played tennis with Scott for years.

Scott died of heart failure Nov. 18. Several hundred of his friends and his family gathered at the Skirball Cultural Center Saturday to celebrate his life.

Among them was Heston, who has said he is in the early stages of an Alzheimer's-like disease. Heston walked slowly to the podium but delivered his tribute in a strong voice.

"He was a good friend and a very, very good writer," Heston said. He said every time Scott interviewed him, "I came away knowing a little more about movies than when we started."

"He was one of the winners," Heston said and added Scott was a friendly and decent man.

"If you knew Vernon was going to do a piece about you, you knew it would turn out well," he said. "I don't know of another writer who has the qualities he had of decency, quality, ability and good humor.

"I am honored to have been asked to speak on his behalf and in his honor," Heston said.

Singer-actress Connie Stevens recalled Scott was the second person to interview her when she first came to Hollywood as a teenager. She said she was happy to realize Scott in his interviewing cared where she came from and where she was going with her career.

"He called me 'spunky kid,'" she said, adding how pleased she was years later when he told her the spunky kid had grown into a lovely woman.

"Leo Durocher said 'nice guys finish last,' but I don't think he ever met Vernon Scott," Stevens said.

At that point, Scott's 5-year-old grandson Oliver, sitting near his mother Tira and father Vernon Scott IV in the front row below the stage, chimed in: "I did!"

Not missing a beat, Stevens laughed, looked at Oliver and said: "Wasn't he great? Wasn't he cool? He taught me loyalty is possible in this business."

Veteran comedy writer Hal Kanter opened the memorial tribute by saying: "Because today is Washington's birthday, our speakers are compelled to tell the truth." He said Scott "you could always trust with the truth." But he also said Scott lived by the advice of Shirley MacLaine: "Be kind to everyone we meet in this life, for we pass this way only two or three times."

Colleagues remembered Scott as a resourceful and witty competitor during his more than 50 years of covering Hollywood for United Press Associations and its successor, UPI.

Jim Bacon, who covered Hollywood for the Associated Press, said he had a habit of staying at celebrity parties to the bitter end while Scott tended to leave at a more sensible hour. One night after Scott left a party, an actor punched out a business executive, giving Bacon a scoop. He said the United Press bureau manager ordered the UP staff never to leave a party before the AP reporter left.

"That was one of the few times I scooped him," Bacon said with a laugh. So at future parties Scott matched Bacon in staying to the wee hours -- but with a sense of humor.

"Once he came with a big sign -- 'Bacon go home,'" Bacon said.

Veteran TV and movie producer Saul Turteltaub said while he only had met Scott a handful of times, "he was the kind of man you wanted as a friend. We lost a good one."

Comic actress Nanette Fabray described her first interview in Hollywood with Scott.

"There was this very sweet, charming man -- I didn't know what to do or say. He very quietly began to ask questions. He was interested in me. This was a new experience for me. Vernon was an absolute true gentleman.

"There is a gift, an absolute gift, to do an interview. It's an art, a gift, a talent, to get the person to come out and talk about themselves. Vernon had that talent," Fabray said.

Vernon's son, Vernon Scott IV, who goes by the nickname "Four," spoke last.

"In a town noted for a short attention span, I can't tell you what it means to us to know that he hasn't been forgotten," he said. "My father loved you all very much and I think this afternoon would have made him very, very happy."

Four recalled that in the final days of his life, Vernon was alternately pinching and scolding the nurses -- which the family had taken as good signs toward recovery. He noted the complexity of his father's personality -- how he was a "loner and a riddle," how he always had encouraged his son to "do the right thing and not cut corners," how he was an intellectual, a wit, a raconteur, a fighter in two wars, a Little League baseball coach, a hiker, skier, a tennis player. And he told how Scott had difficulty expressing his emotions, but how his deep affection for his grandson had reinforced an old bond.

"It is a very beautiful thing to rediscover the depth of your father's love by seeing it bestowed on your son," Four said.

Film clips of Scott speaking about celebrities he had covered were interspersed throughout the tribute, which closed with a photo montage of Scott's life. The tribute ended with a smiling, bearded Scott on screen with a caption that read: "We'll miss you, big guy."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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