Happy birthday, Mason Reese (b. 1965)!
I have been looking forward to this post for days, as only someone my precise age would. Reese is just a few months older than me. He was a child actor who was virtually EVERYWHERE for 15 minutes during the early 1970s. Reese was extremely adorable, with a lisp and a propensity for making dramatic faces, brainy enough to mimic the behavior of adults in a manner that was highly entertaining, and could deliver copy with a facility that was downright startling in such a young child. Also novel at the time was his mop of long red hair, as though he were one of the Rolling Stones, which had finally ceased to be prohibitively daring by then, although he was one of the first to cross that Rubicon. If the Beatles and Stones made it hip for teenagers to be shaggy, it was Mason Reese who made it fashionable for FIVE year olds to be so. When I was in elementary school, boys would be ridiculed for having been to the barber: true fact.
Reese was cast in national tv commercials for products like Underwood Deviled Ham, Post Raisin Bran, and Dunkin’ Munchkins…which led to covers on all the magazines…which led to two dozen celebrity appearances on The Mike Douglas Show, and numerous other talk and variety shows. His funny pronunciation of the word “smorgasbord” in the Underwood commercial became a catchphrase briefly; I recall us all imitating it at the time. In 1977, he starred in a pilot for his own sitcom, with parents played by Barry Nelson and Barbara Stuart. He was 12 at that point.
And then…ya know what happens to child stars. He’d always been strange looking as a small child. As an adolescent that was no longer cute, and as an adult it seemed even freakish. Nor, it appears, was he much of an actor, though if he’d been one, he probably wouldn’t have been likely to transcend his reputation for hawking products anyway. In adulthood he abandoned show business and co-owned a number of restaurants, bars, and night clubs (I saw him in person at one of them, one late late night about 20 years ago). I find myself disappointed that he never started a French bistro called “Maison Reese”.
There’s more to the inexplicable phenomenon. His mother Sonia Darrin (Sonia Paskowitz, b. 1924) was a Hollywood bit player throughout the 1940s, in such well known pictures as My Gal Sal (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Lady in the Dark (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946). Her final role was her only credited one; she’s in the B movie Federal Agent at Large (1950). Mason’s father, Bill Reese, was a theatrical set designer. Mason was their fourth child. He went to a groovy Montessori school on the Upper West Side through 4th grade; then transferred to a school for child actors.
In adulthood he has occasionally appeared in the media again, on shows like Howard Stern’s. In 2017 he starred in a semi-autobiographical movie called Life Interrupted, which also featured Dawn Wells from Gilligan’s Island; Alison Arngrim (Nellie Olsen from Little House on the Prairie); Erin Murphy (Tabitha from Bewitched); Robbie Rist (Oliver from The Brady Bunch, and much else, including Big John, Little John); Brandon Cruz from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father; and Michael Learned from The Waltons. If you are anyone I care to associate with, you are of course dying to see this! Meantime, many of his vintage clips from commercials and talk and variety shows are available to watch on Youtube. It is a real televisory “borgasmord”.