Johnny Grant Dies
Honorary Mayor of Hollywood
Johnny Grant and Hollywood are synonymous. As Hollywood’s Honorary Mayor, Johnny was one of the community’s most enthusiastic supporters for more than 50 years. He departed his beloved town on January 9, 2008, when a heart attack, suffered in his home in the penthouse of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, stilled his booming voice.
Johnny was perhaps best known for the more than 600 Walk of Fame and Chinese Theatre hand-and-footprint ceremonies he hosted over the years. He often referred to himself as “the world’s most famous unknown,” as his face would appear on CNN internationally, covering the ceremonies, and people would recognize him wherever he went. He emceed red carpet Oscar arrivals, appeared in bit parts in movies and served for 25 years as executive producer of the Hollywood Christmas Parade.
Over the years, Johnny interviewed anyone who was anyone — Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and Dolly Parton. He was also a friend to presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon; and he counted President Reagan as one of his closest confidants.
Raised in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Johnny was a junior reporter for radio station WGBR when he hitchhiked to Washington, D.C., to cover President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third inauguration. Always enterprising, he climbed a tree to get the best perspective from which to write his report.
He joined the U.S. Army in 1943. After his discharge he headed to Hollywood, where he landed a small role as a reporter in The Babe Ruth Story, starring William Bendix. He was lured to Hollywood, he once recalled, after seeing Mickey Rooney in the 1938 film Boys Town. “If that little guy can do it, so can I,” he remembered telling himself. Johnny also had a part in the classic holiday film White Christmas, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, and he played himself in 1966’s The Oscar.
Johnny did Lucky Strike commercials for Jack Benny’s radio show and radio celebrity interviews at the Ham & Egger restaurant on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. He also hosted radio interviews in the lobby of Ciro’s on Sunset Boulevard; among his iconic guests were Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe DiMaggio, Betty Grable and Mel Torme. Reflecting on those days, Johnny said, “This really was Hollywood.”
Johnny also traveled the globe as a USO ambassador, bringing entertainers to war zones around the world. He traveled in the company of Bob Hope, Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens, Jane Russell, Piper Laurie, Patricia Neal, Jayne Mansfield, Terry Moore, Penny Singleton and Angie Dickinson, to name a few. Grant was one of America’s most enthusiastic, energetic and vocal supporters of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. His service to his country included 15 trips to Korea and 14 gut-wrenching tours to combat bases throughout Vietnam — in all, a monumental 60 USO and personally organized visits to bring laughter, encouragement and the spirit of America to our GIs overseas.
In 1991, at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War, Johnny created and produced Hollywood’s “Welcome Home Desert Storm” Parade, the largest single-day event in the history of Los Angeles. He made his first overseas trip in 1951, and spent every Christmas and every Thanksgiving with the men and women of our Armed Forces for more than 40 years. His last tour was in December of 2007, when he visited Guantanamo Bay with Stefanie Powers, Karri Turner and Kate Linder.
Johnny worked for Gene Autry at radio station KMPC as host of “The Freeway Club” and was one of the nation’s first disc jockeys to mix regular traffic reports between playing records and interviewing celebrities. He accomplished this by asking his regular listeners, who lived next to the freeways, to call him with traffic reports! Later, he hired a guy on a motorcycle to travel the town and report in via pay phone.
Along with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra, Johnny co-hosted the first national telethon ever produced, a fundraiser to help send America’s Olympic athletes to Helsinki in 1952. He was one of the creators of the Arthritis Telethon, and was affiliated with the show as producer and co-host for 20 years. He also served as producer and host of the United States Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots Telethon for 10 years.
On December 7, 1960, Johnny was both surprised and honored as the subject of Ralph Edwards primetime NBC hit show This Is Your Life, with family and friends flying in from all over the world to participate.
In 1980, Johnny received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to television and for his massive involvement in, and support of, the Hollywood community. In 1997, he was honored with another of Hollywood’s oldest and most prestigious traditions — a hand-and-footprint ceremony in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences paid tribute to Johnny in 1988, awarding him its highest honor, the Los Angeles Area Governors Award. It was the second time he had won the coveted Emmy, and had a total of 14 nominations.
In 1980, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce named Johnny Hollywood’s Honorary Mayor, in recognition for all he had done to promote the magical name of Hollywood around the world. It was a position he held for the rest of his life.