Several cousins and I recently lamented how sad it is that we only see each other at funerals. My Aunt Mary had just passed away and cousins from near and far drove, or flew in, to attend the services. I hadn’t seen my cousin, Eddie Hodges, since my own dad passed away in 2006. On several occasions another cuz, Jay Murdock, and I talked about grabbing our guitars and driving up to Hattiesburg to jam a bit with Eddie. It just never seemed to happen.

I mentioned to Eddie that I had begun writing an autobiography on my blog and that I was including articles about family members as well. I told him I wanted to do an article on his adventures as a Broadway, film and television actor, and musician. Hey, not everyone has a genuine movie star in their family! My original intention was to write a single article with a synopsis of Eddie’s career and list the movies and TV shows he acted in. As my wife and I sat down with him and started hearing all the “behind-the-scenes” stories, I knew this was going to be a multi-part story.

In this first article I write about how this little red-headed boy from rural Mississippi got his start on Broadway, and how it opened doors for many great adventures. From his appearance with future astronaut John Glenn on Name That Tune, to his being Mississippi’s first Grammy Award winner, through to his feature motion pictures, I plan to set the record straight. There is much false information about Eddie online and the two of us would like to remedy that.

Early Life & Career

King Edward Hotel New York

Samuel “Eddie” Hodges was born March 5, 1947 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We are both descended from the McCaffrey clan, well-known in South Mississippi. Eddie’s family relocated to New York City when his dad, John Hodges, worked as night manager of the King Edward Hotel.

The hotel was located right off Broadway and, after the shows, actors from the CBS Studios would drop by and have a few drinks at the bar. If they consumed a bit too much on any given evening, John would put them up in a room, or get them in a cab for safe passage home. He was trustworthy and kept things quiet. Art Carney, well known as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, once told him, “I owe you John!”

One night in 1953, Eddie was hanging out with his dad at the hotel and got to meet Carney. Art took a liking to Eddie and desired to introduce him to Jackie Gleason. Before long he had to opportunity to sing “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” on Episode 10 of the The Jackie Gleason Show titled “The Christmas Party.

Afterward, Eddie appeared in an episode of The Paul Winchell Show. In the skit, ventriloquist Mitchell has a dream where the dummy, Jerry Mahoney, comes to life much like Pinocchio. Eddie credits his desire to be in show business as a career from being on that show.

During this time Eddie did several TV commercials for the Buick Station Wagon, Campbell’s soup, Lysol disinfectant, and so forth. He also did a background part for singer Kay Starr on the Ed Sullivan Show. However, things began to slow down for a while after that.

The Big Break

In 1958, grandfather Hodges came to New York City for a visit. John took him into the city to check out Times Square and do a bit of sightseeing. While there, a lady walked up to Eddie and asked, “Where did you get that red hair?” He replied, “It came with my head.” She laughed and exclaimed “That’s a good answer!” She noticed Eddie’s accent and told him it didn’t sound like he was from around there. When Eddie told her he was from Mississippi she asked him what he was doing in New York. He told her straight-up that he came there to sing and be a star!

She became more intrigued and queried him about his singing and knowledge of songs. She asked if he had done any shows and if he would like to be on TV. Finally she gave little Eddie a business card and requested he give it to his dad and have him call. The entire time John had been talking to the grandfather and didn’t even notice the lady chatting with Eddie. When he was given the card his first inclination was to toss it in the trash figuring it was just another nut.

Eddie Hodges & John Glenn on Name That Tune

Eddie begged and eventually prevailed. John walked over to a pay phone and made the call. It turned out to be the office of Name That Tune. They were instructed to come straightway and there Eddie was played several songs on piano. He named every single one of them. When he informed them he could also sing, they let him perform a few songs. Being impressed with little Eddie, they made a studio appointment for him and asked his shoe size. As it turns out, every contestant got a brand new pair of sneakers because you had to run and ring a bell on the show.

During the first episode Eddie correctly identified all four songs which led him to the “Golden Medley.” This was a bonus round where you had to identify seven tunes within the span of thirty seconds. The songs were sent in from a home viewer. If all seven tunes could be correctly named, the home viewer would get the chance to come to New York and play along with the studio contestant in a special round called the “Golden Medley Marathon.” They played the songs and Eddie nailed them all. Little did he know the home viewer was Marine Corp. Major John Glenn. Yes, we are talking about the same John Glenn who was the first American astronaut to orbit the earth.

The Hodges/Glenn team performed flawlessly and continued for the maximum five week run of the marathon. In the end, they got to split the $50,000 grand total. But that’s not all, during that run of shows, Eddie was contacted about doing a Broadway show, The Music Man. He met with Meredith Wilson at a huge empty theater to audition for the part of Winthrop Paroo. Wilson was the writer of all the musical numbers in the play.

For the audition, the theater was dark with just a working light focused on stage. Eddie was handed some lines to read and after a while they asked him to come down. He thought he had totally flopped and then learned he had landed a major part on a Broadway show…at age nine. He signed the contract live on TV during a Name That Tune episode. With no acting training and no voice coaching whatsoever, little Eddie had hit the big time. In fact, he thought about getting some formal training and was advised not to do it. He was told he was a natural and training could produce a negative effect.

The Music Man

The Music Man on Broadway

The plot of The Music Man concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys’ band organizer and leader. He sells band instruments and uniforms to the naive Iowa townsfolk, promising to train the members of the new band. The truth is, Harold is no musician and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him, but when Harold helps her younger brother Winthrop to overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Marian begins to fall in love. Harold risks being caught to win her.

The cast consisting of Robert Preston, David Burns, Barbara Cook et al rehearsed feverishly, and everyone looked forward to opening night on Broadway. That evening, Eddie lost a tooth before the show began, and everyone panicked. Yet it turned out to be a fantastic opening with a dozen curtain calls. The cast left the theater and headed to a restaurant to anxiously await the reviews. When they came in everyone was ecstatic, it was a huge hit! All the reviews were positive and full of praise. Eddie even got some special mentions.

The Music Man opened on Broadway December 19, 1957 and ran for a total of 1375 performances at the Majestic & Broadway Theaters. It won several 1958 Tony Awards including Best Musical. Eddie won the 1958 Theatre World Award for his part.

During run of The Music Man, the Hodges’ got a call from their agent that President Eisenhower had requested a command performance from Hodges at the White House. The Eisenhower’s, as well as the Kennedy’s and other notables had attended the show during its original run. So little Eddie was off to Washington accompanied by his mother, Sue, to perform for the president as well as Vice-President Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, the Supreme Court Justices, and others.

Also during the run of The Music Man, Frank Sinatra and Frank Capra came backstage after a show and talked with John about the possibility of Eddie starring in a movie they were about to shoot in Florida. On the last night of The Music Man, the Hodges literally left the theater, drove to the airport, and boarded a plane to Miami. The next morning they met up with Sinatra and were on location that afternoon.

A Hole In The Head

A Hole In The Head movie with Eddie HodgesA Hole In The Head is a 1959 movie starring Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Eleanor Parker, Carolyn Jones, Keenan Wynn…and, of course, cousin Eddie! It is based on a Broadway play that ran for 156 performances during the 1956 season. Master director, Frank Capra (It’s A Wonderful Life), was at the helm. The movie was filmed at the Cardozo Hotel, now owned by Gloria & Emilio Estefan.

The story centers around Tony Manetta (Sinatra) and his son Ally (Hodges). As a young man, Tony left the Bronx for the sands of Miami Beach searching for success. Accompanied by two buddies, they each ended up at very different stations in life. One became a wealthy business tycoon while another remained stuck as a cab driver. In the middle was Tony who operated a small hotel called “Garden of Eden.” Tony, though, tends to be irresponsible, spending money he doesn’t have on expensive suits and cars while in debt. He is also a widowed father of 11 year old son, Ally. Though self-centered he shows a true love for his son.

As our story begins, Tony is five months in arrears and has to come up with $5000, or lose the hotel. He attempts to get his wealthy brother Mario (Robinson) to bail him out, as is usual. But this time his brother puts his foot down and refuses to help out. However, his wife Sophie (Ritter), being concerned about young Ally, insists they fly down to Miami.

A Hole In The Head with Frank Sinatra & Eddie HodgesTony has a girlfriend, Shirl (Jones), who doesn’t care for Ally and would rather Tony marry her and whisk her away to some exotic place. Mario and Sophie, trying to bring respectability to Tony’s life introduces him to a wealthy widower named Eloise (Parker). The reluctant Tony is surprised by how likeable Eloise is, and Ally immediately bonds with her. Unlike Shirl, Eloise is drawn to Ally, as she lost her son in the same accident as her husband.

I’m not going to tell you how the story plays out…only that my wife and I liked it a lot. It has an IMDB rating of 6.4, and is considered one of Frank Sinatra’s best acting roles. We really enjoyed Eddie’s part as the boy who stubbornly believes in, and with unyielding dedication loves, his dad…no matter what!

There is a great scene where Sinatra and Hodges sing “High Hopes.” Some reviewers commented that little Eddie “stole the show” from Ol’ Blue Eyes himself! The song went on to win an Oscar for Best Movie Song. Hear an Eddie Hodges solo version here.

A Hole In The Head Piano SceneThe High Hopes scene is interesting in and of itself. Sinatra and Hodges had just been grabbed from a scene and taken to a nearby piano. As you can see in the photo, Eddie still had the party hat on from the prior scene. Off to the side of the seawall set they were told to quickly learn a song. After a very short practice, they were whisked over to the set and immediately filmed. Eddie wanted more time to rehearse, but Capra desired it raw and natural. He did not want it to sound rehearsed.

The Slapping Scene Was REAL

Eddie’s proudest moment during the entire filming of the movie occurred surrounding the “slapping scene.” There is a point in the movie where Manetta lets loose on little Ally across the face. Before shooting the scene Sinatra instructed his little partner, “When I go like this, you just turn your head and we’ll add a sound.”

Eddie was not convinced that was the proper approach. There was a break in filming while the scene was being setup, and he walked over to Capra and said, “That’s not gonna work for me, sir.” Capra asked, “What do you mean?” Hodges said, “He’s got to hit because I have to have something to react to. Otherwise it’s just going to look stupid. I don’t want to look stupid. This is my first movie and I want to do it right.”

Of course, Capra could not envision Sinatra doing such a thing. However, little Eddie argued his point until it was finally agreed to discuss it further with Sinatra. Eddie told Frank, “You’ve got to really hit me. If you don’t hit me, it’s gonna look dumb.” He pressed his point that this was a very important part of the script…a very emotional part where Frank is saying to the boy “I don’t want you.” He doesn’t really mean it but he has to do that because he knows he can’t take care of Ally, and he doesn’t want his son to wash out in Miami Beach, Florida. So Eddie insisted, “When we do the scene you are going to have to slap me.” Frank returned a determined, “No I don’t.”

Eddie wouldn’t let up, “For me, please! I have to have something to react to. This is an emotional part and the audience needs to be with me. They should be shocked and surprised when you hit me.” Sinatra could not believe Hodges was serious and flat refused to do it. Eddie turned up the heat and said, “It will only work if you hit me.” Finally Sinatra began to cave in a bit and it was discussed with the welfare worker and Eddie’s parents. At last Sinatra relented, “I’ve got some bad feelings about this. I’m not comfortable with it, but for you I’ll do it…once.” Eddie thanked him and Capra shouted, Shoot it.”

Eddie Hodges & Sammy Davis Jr.

Eddie explains what happened next: “He hauls off and just about knocks my head off with the slap. That was the hardest slap I’ve ever felt. But if you look in the film…the reaction is just what I needed.” Capra yelled, “Cut!” and Sinatra grabbed me and held me tight. I thought he was going to cry. It was an amazing moment.”

The funny part is Capra wanted to do one more take at a different angle. Sinatra angrily responded, “What are you talking about. You’ve got to be kidding me. Go to Hell, I’m not gonna do it!” Capra insisted they had to have another reference shot. Sinatra looked at Hodges and little Eddie said “Let’s do it.” They did another one and he got slapped again. Sinatra said that was all and walked off the set. This remains one of the great highlights of Eddie’s movie career. I ripped a movie clip and it can be viewed on YouTube.

Sammy Davis Jr. came on the set and when he saw Eddie he picked him up, twirled him around and said “I’ve heard about you.” He then demonstrated some of his pistol tricks. He was so impressed with Eddie he had a pistol and holster, like his, made for Eddie. Of course, the firing pin was removed so that it couldn’t actually fire.

   The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Eddie Hodges - Huck FinnThere have been several film adaptions of the great Mark Twain novel but if there was ever a young red-headed actor that embodied Huck’s true character it was my cousin. If you look up Huckleberry Finn in the dictionary it should say “Eddie Hodges.”

Lots of actors have run the race, but only one get the laurels. Jake Austin (2014), a Yankee from New York played the most recent incarnation. Elijah Wood (1993) tried his hand in one of the 90s versions. Frodo is about as Huck Finn as Gandalf is James Bond. Mitchell Anderson, another New Yorker landed the part in the Disney 90s movie. Ian Tracey played in the 1980 TV version, and he is not even American.

As you go further back, the parts were actually played by Southerners. I suppose having Opie (Ron Howard) leave Mayberry and star in the 1975 version was better than a Frodo. Jeff East (1974) and Patrick Day (1986) were both born in St. Louis, so they at least knew where the Mississippi River was on a map. Mickey Rooney (1939), another New Yorker got the part in the 30s version. You can see many have tried to capture the essence of Huck Finn, and this is not even the entire list.

Eddie got the role in the 1960 version, which had an all-star cast including: Tony Randall (The King of France), Mickey Shaughnessy (The Duke), Neville Brand (Pap Finn), Andy Devine (Mr. Carmody), Buster Keaton (The Lion Tamer), John Carradine (Slave Catcher), Sterling Holloway (Barber), and a Scottish actor I like named Finlay Currie. Professional boxer and reigning Light Heavyweight Champion, Archie Moore, played the part of Jim.

The chemistry between the two character pairs is excellent. On the one hand you have Eddie and Archie’s very believable roles as Huck and Jim respectively. Tony and Mickey working the con man act is hilarious as well. My favorite part of the entire movie is when Huck tries to pass Jim off as the emperor of Patagonia.

The movie was directed by Hungarian, Michael Curtiz, famous for Casablanca as well as Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. Many have complained that this movie only covers part of Mark Twain’s novel. But it’s a rather moot point? It’s a 107 minute movie. No novel ever written has been entirely covered in a movie of less than two hours. I believe it was intended to be a family fun movie, and it achieves that end.

A funny story about Archie Moore

Archie Moore PrizefighterArchie Moore (born Archibald Lee Wright) was the longest reigning Light Heavyweight World Champion of all time and holds the record for most career knockouts (131). Like Eddie, Archie hailed from the Great State of Mississippi. My cousin was known to roam around the MGM lot whenever he had some down time. He had an obsession with finding Wizard of Oz sets so he would go from building to building looking inside. He thought it fun to see what else was being filmed and maybe even watch a bit of it. The studio pretty much gave him free rein to do so. One day he came across a war film being made and decided to hang out a bit. One actor came over to him and asked, “You look like you’re in costume and makeup, are you being filmed? Eddie informed him he was filming Huck Finn nearby. The actor further inquired, “Isn’t Archie Moore on that picture?” Eddie replied, “Sure, you wanna meet him?” It turned out this actor was a prize fighter and was set to fight Archie Moore for the title. So Eddie took him over and announced, “This is my friend Archie!” After the shock wore off, all three posed for some photos together.

Advise & Consent

Advise & Consent MovieAdvise & Consent is a 1962 drama/thriller movie starring Henry Fonda, Walter Pidgeon, Don Murray and the ineffable Charles Laughton. The plot centers on Robert Leffingwell (Fonda) who is the president’s candidate for Secretary of State. Prior to his approval, he must first go through a Senate investigation to determine if he’s qualified. Leading the Senate committee is idealistic Senator Brig Anderson (Murray), who soon finds himself unprepared for the political dirt that’s revealed, including Leffingwell’s past affiliations with a Communist organization. When Leffingwell testifies about his political leanings, he proves his innocence. Later, however, Anderson learns that he lied under oath and even asks the president to withdraw Leffingwell for consideration, especially after the young senator begins receiving blackmail threats about a skeleton in his own closet.

Eddie played a rather small part as Johnny Leffingwell, the candidate’s son. I loved the character of Senator Seab Cooley. Laughton based his character on real-life Mississippi Senator John C. Stennis. In fact, he went so far as to have Stennis read the character’s lines into a tape recorder so he could get the accent and rhythms down correctly. After all, Laughton was British! Sadly, it was Charles Laughton’s final movie as he died shortly afterward.

Summer Magic

Summer Magic starring Eddie Hodges The old school Disney films were so much better than what passes for “family films” produced by the studio today. Under the stewardship of Walt Disney 1963 movie, Summer Magic, has a lot to offer. You have a family overcoming struggles, there’s young romance along with sibling rivalry, and there is Burl Ives…Frosty the Snowman himself!

Eddie, who plays Gilly Carey, is once more the son of a widow. This time around he is one of Margaret Carey’s (Dorothy McQuire) three children. Set in turn-of-the-century New England, The Carey family, due to finances must leave their Bostonian city life. Nancy Carey (Hayley Mills) misrepresents her family’s plight to rural Maine postmaster Osh Popham (Burl Ives) who allows them to rent a house he doesn’t own. With a setting right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, they find themselves adjusting to country life.

Summer Magic starring Eddie HodgesBefore long, snobby cousin Julia (Deborah Walley) arrives and adds complication. She can’t help but brag about her fine clothes and high society upbringing. Her prissy ways has Nancy in a tizzy. An outright cat fight between the cousins looms heavy when a “young man” arrives in town to begin teaching at the school.

Ol’ Osh is hilarious as his “innocently devious” character slowly digs a deeper pit trying to keep up pretenses while trying to help the Carey family. Will the real owner of the home, Tom Hamilton, show up?

Though this was mainly a girly film, we enjoyed cousin Eddie’s part along with Michael J. Pollard who played Osh’s son Digby. Eddie gets to show off more of his musical talent in this film. Burl Ives is a hoot! The corny song, “Ugly Bug Ball” got a snorting laughter from my wife. The movie has a respectable IMDB rating of 7.1.

Johnny Shiloh

Johnny Shiloh with Eddie HodgesJohnny Shiloh is a 1963 television film that originally aired as two episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney. It is based on the life of Union drummer boy, John Clem, who is a stowaway on a train carrying troops to camp. Despite efforts by the soldiers to force him to return home, he refuses and eventually becomes the official regimental drummer boy.

The day before being fitted for a uniform in the Johnny Shiloh movie, Eddie and his mother went up to the office to meet Walt Disney. They found him to be very gracious, yet very subdued. Eddie said, “I’m very glad to play a rebel soldier in this movie because I’m from Mississippi and I think I can do the accent.” Disney replied, “Oh, we know you can do it.” They said Disney was a kind man but when he wanted something done, it was done immediately! He made instant decisions. On the set he was like a ghost who would show up on the sound stage out of nowhere in an old sweater (with a hole in it) and corduroy pants…looking almost like a bum.

Live A Little Love A Little

Elvis Presley & Eddie HodgesLive A Little, Love A Little is a 1968 film starring Elvis Presley. The King plays carefree newspaper photographer, Gary Nolan, who runs into a very eccentric Bernice (Michele Carey) while riding the California beaches. She invites him to stay at her beachfront home but soon costs him his job and apartment. He then wishes he had never met her, and has a hard time shaking free from her. Eddie plays a delivery boy. It is not one of Elvis’ best movies but it has a some funny moments.

Eddie took the part because of a long held desire to work with Elvis. He said it was a great experience as Elvis was so much fun to work with. Both of them hailing from Mississippi, the two would sit in “director chairs” off to the side of the set and talk about such things as squirrel hunting. At the time my cousin smoked these little cigars. Elvis was curious about them so Eddie gave him one. As they sat and smoked, the discussion turned toward the subject of karate. Eddie mentioned he always wanted to break boards. Elvis jumped up and said, “Let’s do it!” He called over the prop man who quickly set them up some boards. Elvis carefully explained how it was done and confidently told his pupil, “You can do it!” They put two boards together and bam…Eddie broke them in twain. Then Elvis said, “Let me show you how I do it.” He had five boards set up and then proceeded to break them. At that point the pupil had to bow out to the master.

When asked what he remembered most about working with Presley, Eddie said: “He was as down home as you and me but when he got on stage, or was in front of the camera…he was all business. He love to tell jokes – long jokes – and everyone would stop and listen. Elvis was a natural at everything he did and everyone loved him. He was always very nice to me but I could tell he was visibly depressed. He was going through his divorce at that time.”

Eddie went on to say one of the oddest things he remembered was Elvis constantly playing a The Box Tops album over and over again in his trailer. And why not, in Southern terms, this Memphis group were practically neighbors.

CLOSING

Eddie Hodges had an exciting childhood. What youngster in his day wouldn’t have dreamed about being a movie star, hanging out with Elvis Presley, singing a song with Frank Sinatra, working with Walt Disney, playing piano with Hayley Mills, and the list goes on. The dynamic mixture of raw talent and being at the right place in the right time seems much like a fairy tale. It amazes me how truth can be stranger than fiction. But we are only beginning our story. As Eddie sits in his easy chair his face lights up as he passionately tells his stories. We have much more to talk about. We still haven’t discussed his television appearances and music career. Also we have purposely left some lingering questions unanswered: Why did he stop as a child star? What has he done since leaving Hollywood? As they used to say in TV, “Stay tuned for the next exciting episode…”

GALLERY: A Hole In The Head

GALLERY: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

GALLERY: Summer Magic

GALLERY: Other Films

GALLERY: Misc Photos of Eddie

To be continued:
Part 2: Eddie Hodges, My Cuz the Television Star
Part 3: Eddie Hodges, My Cuz the Rock Star