Friday, August 30, 2013

Movie stars among us

Prof. Picerni emcees a fund raiser.
From 1951 Mount yearbook.
WE FIELDED AN INTERESTING research request from an alumna the other day. Is there any evidence that a Sister of St. Joseph on the Mount faculty was a good friend of a particular Italian-Cuban-American entertainer in the 1960s?

Alas, the archives turned up nothing on the gentleman in question (we have to be mysterious here because of confidentiality issues). But as we were poking around the archives, we found a future movie star, right there on the Mount faculty.

Paul Picerni was a decorated World War II Army Air Corps veteran and recent graduate of Loyola University when the Mount hired him in 1949 to teach speech and drama. In addition to producing and writing plays -- his musical "Everybody Goes to College" was staged with Mount and Loyola students in 1949 -- he continued to audition for film roles. He started hitting it big with parts in "Twelve O'Clock High" in 1949 and "Breakthrough" in 1950.

Paul Picerni shows up on page 16 of
the 1950 Mount yearbook (upper right).
Picerni continued to teach as his career picked up speed -- nine pictures in 1950 alone -- and even after he left the faculty he continued to emcee Mount events well into the 1950s.

Picerni went on to a long, productive career, with 200 film credits and 455 TV episodes to his name, including a long run on TV's "Untouchables." A devout Catholic, he and his wife raised eight kids in Tarzana, and he still managed to find time to emcee halftime for the NFL Football Rams for 30 years. He passed away in 2011.

Over the years, siblings and daughters of Hollywood denizens came to the Mount to study. And movie stars, especially Catholic movie stars, were were among the Mount's most generous supporters.

When the Mount held a major fund raising gala in 1964 for a new Fine Arts Building after the 1961 Bel Air Fire, stars like Jose Ferrer, Rosemary Clooney, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Bobby Darrin, Sandra Dee, Lucille Ball, and Bob Hope purchased tickets, and the honorary event committee included Ralph Bellamy, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Irene Dunne, and the wife of the late Clark Gable.

Yes, indeed, the CSJs had some very good friends in Hollywood.

Mount St. Mary's College and Loyola University students in the 1949
production of "Everybody Goes to College"  at the Wilshire-Ebell Theater,
written and directed by faculty member Paul Picerni. (Mount Archives photo.)

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