Memory lane: Salisbury resident recalls his time in Hollywood
David Alexander calls the bedroom inside his Horah Street apartment his “very small museum.”
Above his neatly-made bed hangs photos of movie stars Ginger Rogers, Ann Jeffreys, Janet Blair and Vera-Ellen.
Vivian Blaine and Judy Garland are to the right of the bed, flanked on each side by photos of Alexander’s cousins — one dressed in his police uniform in Atlanta, the other decked out as a cowboy from his stint as a model.
“I love to wake up and go to sleep with friends, people you’ve known all your life, some of whom you wish you knew better,” Alexander said.
Back to the start
Alexander, 82, fell in love with the movies as a chid in Charlotte.
Back then it only cost 10 cents to see a motion picture on the big screen.
“It was all I could afford to do,” he said.
At the age of 18, Alexander scored his first acting gig in the 1949 production of Pfeiffer Junior College’s “Charley’s Aunt.”
He continued his work on the stage as he moved to Chapel Hill to attend the University of North Carolina.
Later, Alexander began teaching English and drama at a high school in Gastonia, but his love of theater never died.
“I would use my three months off for the summer to go down to Ovens Auditorium (in Charlotte) to be a ham,” he said. “I got so happy being on stage that after about three summers I made up my mind in August 1962 that I was leaving the teaching profession and I was going to New York to be in theater.”
Alexander didn’t have to look for housing when he arrived; a friend had arranged for him to housesit while he was away for the summer.
Landing a job was easy too — all he had to do was pick up the phone. A friend of a friend offered him a spot as an apprentice press agent.
“That’s how my life in New York started,” he said. “I loved working in that office, it was always exciting.”
One of Alexander’s responsibilities was keeping a scrapbook for famed baseball player Ted Williams.
“I had my own special key and I would come in on Saturday and take all the clippings that mentioned Ted Williams and put them in the book,” he said. “It wasn’t until the 1990s that I finally met Ted Williams. He was very quiet and low key. He had plenty of adoration in his life, but it didn’t go to his head.”
Alexander said it wasn’t uncommon for stars like Elizabeth Taylor to drop by the office he worked in at 1700 Broadway.
“There was an elderly man in the building named Paul, he was the only man in the building who got to kiss Elizabeth Taylor every time she came through,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Alexander got an offer to do publicity out in Berkeley, Calif.
“San Francisco is such a beautiful, beautiful city, you’re tempted to stay there forever,” he said. “I guess I got the bug.”
Alexander worked in theatre there for a while before landing at job at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
It’s there where Alexander encountered Verna Fields.
“She was a good editor, but she was not particularly well known,” he said. “She was working with a young director named Steven Spielberg, who hadn’t tested his mettle yet.
“They were doing this picture that nobody thought was going to make a dime.”
Field went on to win an Academy Award for film editing the movie “Jaws.”
“She told him the movie needs something that will absolutely scare people out of their seats,” Alexander said. “Spielberg was smart when it came to listening to editors.”
During his 16 years at Universal, Alexander saw a number of stars come and go.
Alexander met a young Christopher Reeve in the film library of the studios before he was cast as Superman.
“He told me he had been interviewed about the possibility of being the Man of Steel,” he said. “Everybody went gaga over Christopher; he ended up having a great career.”
Alexander’s sharp mind still allows him to recall details from his Hollywood days.
Like the time Cary Grant showed up and all the women in his office were peering over his shoulder in hopes of catching a glimpse of him from the window.
Alexander also vividly remembers Alfred Hitchcock’s arrival.
“He wouldn’t sit in the back, he sat up front with the chauffeur and on his lap was his little dog,” he said. “I loved to look out and see him coming to work.”
Alexander eventually parted ways with Universal to move back to North Carolina to care for his mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
But at the beginning of its onset, he brought her to Hollywood, where his boss allowed him to work nights while he showed his mother all the sights.
“We went to the San Diego zoo and had lunch at the Queen Mary,” he said. “She finally got to see the things she had read about all her life.”
After his mother’s death, Alexander moved to Salisbury to be closer to the Hefner VA Medical Center. He served two years in the Army.
The city was familiar to him. During his time at Pfeiffer, Alexander sang in the choir at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
“Salisbury was charming then and it’s charming now,” he said.
Alexander continues to correspond with Goldsboro native Ann Jeffreys by mail and he often talks to Fred Astaire’s widow, Robyn Smith, over the phone.
“Most people don’t know (Smith) is a pilot,” he said.
Most of the time, Alexander is content with the memories of his life in Hollywood. He has a special cane, crafted by a friend from the VA, that reminds him of that special place.
But sometimes it’s not enough.
“I wake up some days thinking ‘Oh to be in California this morning,’” he said.
When he goes to sleep each night, perhaps he’s there, surrounded by all his friends.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.