Home for the Holidays, by Thomas Kincaid

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wit & Determination: The Story of Johnny Compton

 One of the funnest evenings we spent while in California was our visit with my late father-in-law's cousin, Johnny Compton.  He entertained us with many stories about his youth, a few of which I am going to share with you today.
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Johnny Compton was a country boy from a small town in Tennessee.  In 1937, he hitchhiked across the country to come to Hollywood, California.  He was determined that he was going to become a famous actor.  As soon as he made it to his destination, he had to find a job, so went around asking shopkeepers if they needed extra help, all to no avail.  Then he came to one shop and saw that in the back of this place there were some terribly dirty trash cans.  He asked the shop owner if he had any openings for help and was once again turned down.  Then he mentioned the dirty trash cans in back on the store and offered to wash them.  They were disgusting.  The shop owner said,

"You would do that?"

To which Johnny replied that he would and that is how he ended up getting his first job.

The first Sunday that he had off from work, he decided he was going to meet some movie stars to try and get into the movie business.  So, he went down on Hollywood Blvd, where even then they were selling maps to stars homes.  He bought a map, looked down the list and saw Shirley Temple's name.  He told himself, "I am going to introduce myself to Shirley Temple today."

So, he took a trolley or bus down to Beverly Hills and found Shirley Temple's home.  Frustrated, he saw that the Temple's home was surrounded by a high wrought iron fence with a massive gate in front.  He was too intimiated to ring the buzzer and wasn't sure what to do.

Right about this time, a lady came out of the house next door to go over to her mailbox.  Johnny saw an opening and went over speak to this lady.  He introduced himself as Johnny Compton from Tennessee and asked about Shirley Temple.  The lady said her name was Lillian Gish, the silent movie era star.

 She went on and on about what a lovely person Shirley Temple was, which bolstered Johnny Compton's confidence about meeting her.  So after he said good-bye to Miss Gish, he went back over to the Temple's, rang the buzzer and said,

"I am Johnny Compton of Tennessee.  My friend, Miss Gish, said that I should come over and introduce myself."

At this, the big iron gate swung open and Johnny was admitted to the Temple's home, where he spent a lovely afternoon visiting with Shirley and her mother.

This is a picture of Shirley Temple taken the same year she met Johnny.   They were around the same age and enjoyed talking to each other, so she began inviting him to spend Sundays with her and her friends.  One such Sunday, another neighbor stopped by,

Joan Crawford. Of course, Johnny was quite enamored with this famous star, but that didn't stop him
from introducing himself to her and proclaiming that he was going to be a movie star.  Miss Crawford said that he was a very good looking young man and could do well in the movies.  Then she mentioned that her studio was in the process of casting a new movie for her, called Mildred Pierce.  She said he would do nicely playing her son.  It wasn't a large speaking role, but he would be on-camera a lot.  So...

The next day, Johnny got himself to Warner Brothers studios.  He buzzed the gate and said,

"I am Johnny Compton from Tennessee.  I was talking to my friend, Joan Crawford, yesterday and she suggested I audition for the role of her son in Mildred Pierce."

The gate swung open and he was admitted for a screen test.  Eventually, he was given the role of the son in Mildred Pierce and a seven year contract with Warner Brothers.

Johnny did not go on to have a big movie career.  As it turned out and as he now concedes, he wasn't that good of an actor.  But that didn't stop his resolve to make something great out of himself.

Back in those days, what is now known as the Hollywood Hills was undeveloped land for sale for $1/acre.  Thrifty Johnny had saved up his money that the studio had paid him and, along with a partner, began to buy up land in the Hollywood Hills.  That land was eventually developed into homes...Johnny now owns 40 (!) properties in the Hollywood Hills and is a wealthy landowner.

Johnny Compton from Tennesse now lives on one of his properties.  He is 88 years old and kept in touch with Shirley Temple for many years.

How do you like that, for a story of wit, determination and a fair share of pluck!

Thanks, Johnny and Angela for a wonderful evening.

Have a great one!


Alexandra said...

What an interesting life story! Those were the days you could make the American dream come true. It's much more difficult now.
I will have to visit California again. I think spiritually my heart belongs there, but my roots are here on the East coast.

Grammy Staffy said...

What a marvelous story. Thank you for sharing it with us. He surely did use his charm and wit. It is amazing that he got to know such famous stars.

Have a great week. Lura