Commentary: A Hollywood institution

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Nov. 19, 2002 at 11:42 AM
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LOS ANGELES, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Vernon Scott, who died at 79 Monday after more than five decades of covering Hollywood for United Press International, was a Hollywood institution in his own right.

I was aware of that long before I joined the company in 1991. After all, I was reading Vernon's stuff daily when I had a paper route in Baltimore in the early '60s.

That byline -- Vernon Scott, UPI -- always told a reader that the story to follow would give yet another literate, usually elegant, glimpse into a world populated by icons behaving in a manner that was almost by definition fascinating.

His was the Hollywood of Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Doris Day. He was an old-timer in the best sense of the word.

And it showed in his work, particularly in the later years.

During the '90s, Vernon frequently used his Hollywood columns to lament the disappearance of the kind of glamour that was, after all, his bread and butter in the preceding decades.

Where, he demanded to know, were the contemporary movie stars who could hold a candle to Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Audrey Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart?

He wasn't necessarily denigrating the talent of the current crop, just their star-power -- the capacity to electrify the public the way movie stars did in the days before celebrity journalism replaced mythical figures with performers who were merely larger than life.

And yet, Vernon was only technically star struck.

It is true that he demonstrated a generous respect over the decades for the institution he wrote about, but his regard for the movie and TV business was tempered by his own modesty. Vernon had little use for posers and great affection for the industrious and the accomplished.

Also, it must have been next to impossible for him to see the major stars of his time as anything but regular human beings, considering his close personal relationship with so many of them.

Vernon's regular tennis partners included Charlton Heston, for crying out loud.

If you ask someone in Hollywood under 35 about Vernon, there is a good chance you will find that many youngsters in the entertainment community share with many of their counterparts in the sports world a lack of historical perspective. It may not be the exact equivalent of young sluggers not knowing who Lou Gehrig was, but it is exactly the same sort of thing.

That's part of the deal when you're a guy, like Vernon was, who goes way back.

When I was assigned several years ago to edit Vernon's daily column, my immediate gut reaction was that there had been a mistake. The job must go to one who is worthy, not a boy just a few years removed -- has it really been 40 years? -- from tossing the Evening Sun onto the neighbors' front lawns.

After listening patiently as I expressed reservations about tampering with the work of a master, Vernon bluntly suggested that I just cut it out.

"You can't do a damn thing to my copy that hasn't already been done before," he said. "Just go ahead and edit the damn stuff, and if I have a problem with it, I'll let you know."

You can believe he did.

Some common threads ran through the kind and complimentary words that Vernon's Hollywood friends offered in his remembrance Monday -- that he was friendly and warm, that he was considerate and honest in his reporting. Most of all, said those who knew him best, Vernon Scott was a thorough professional who will be missed.

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