Sat, Jan 21 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Peña
We have noted, on a number of occasions, persons who fall into the category of the "Greatest Generation".
The term, you might recall, was coined by television anchorman, Tom Brokaw, and included those who were born at about 1920. We are the group of folks (I was born in 1918) who experienced the good times of the 20s, the bad times of the 30s, the wartime of the 40s, and the uncertainties of the times following.
On top of that they generally comprise that group of men and women that I refer to as "interesting people."
I went over to Villa Bonita the other day to speak with such a person. Larry Evaristo was born in 1920 in Stamford, Conn. that is not too far from New York City.
Like most kids he went to school and did most of the things enjoyed by his peers. He, however, at an early age had a penchant for acting and imitating. At the ripe age of eight years he says, he had a routine mimicking Charlie Chaplin that used to even meet with the approval of his elders.
His entry into show business on a serious nature came a few years later, and this by accident. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 a wave of patriotism fed by outrage hit the nation. Evaristo and his peers were among the group anxious to sign on and fight for the nation.
He states how groups of them joined the army and were sent to a base for training. He was in a barracks one evening when the lights went out. Since it seemed to be a rather eerie situation Evaristo started telling stories. He had a captured audience and was so good at it that the commanding officer said he was something special and was designated to henceforth do entertaining rather than combat. This could have been the beginning of the USO.
There was a downside to entertaining the troops. Evaristo was not technically in the army and on being released was not eligible for the privileges offered soldiers. He, thus, lost out on many perks that would have been his due.
Evaristo got himself an agent and became a member of the actor’s union in New York. For the next few years he played the circuits. He had married shortly after the war and was raising a family in this period. This was in the glory days of vaudeville. He told me how most of the material he used was from something he had copied from some other performer. This was the norm, he said. A routine that was funny, that worked for one fellow should work for others. And it did. He thus would watch the acts of some of the greats, Jimmie Durante, Abbot and Costello, Jerry Lewis and others and would unabashedly use it.
Early in his career an agent told him that his last name, Evaristo, did not have that show business ring. He, therefore, adopted the name of Larry Parks and used it until it was learned that there was a real Larry Parks out there. This fellow had some screen credits. He had the part of Al Jolson in the original, “The Al Jolson Story.” So much for a stage name.
In time the vaudeville type of entertainment met its demise. Evaristo and his family migrated to California where they opened, first a deli in Van Nuys and then a restaurant in Encino. Evaristo’s wife of 65 years died in 2008.
He then made the move from Encino to the South Bay to be near his son, Pete, who lives in Bonita.
It is our hope that the living “Larry Parks” stays active and picks up an audience. He has some interesting tales to tell.
A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Larry Evaristo's last name.The Star-News regrets the error.
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