Tinseltown Tar Heel giving back

By Marion P. Blackburn

GOLDSBORO, N.C. — He shines in Tinseltown, but Goldsboro native Johnny Grant still reflects values he learned more than 60 years ago in eastern North Carolina.

Those beliefs led Grant, 82, the long-time honorary mayor of Hollywood and master of ceremonies for the city’s Walk of Fame, to give $25,000 for the arts and humanities at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro.

“I always want the ethos of the community to be what it was in North Carolina,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of nice people here. But there, you’re taught from a young age to help your neighbor. It kind of leads you into a life of community service.”

In April, the Foundation of Wayne Community College honored Grant and another Goldsboro native, actress Anne Jeffreys, with a tribute that raised $20,000 for the college.

Both received stars on the campus “Walk of Fame.”

The Wayne Community College Foundation began in 1986 and has about $2 million in assets.

It provides scholarships, faculty support and educational and cultural programs. The arts and humanities fund has about $100,000.

The foundation raised more than $526,000 last year, says Jack Kannon, executive director.

The fund benefits from “friend-building,” events that acquaint potential donors with the college, he says.

In addition to the spring gala, the foundation has hosted musical reviews, plays, lectures and history tours.

“We’re just starting,” he says. “But for me, it’s not about money. If you just go after money, you see there are hundreds of great worthy causes out there.

Johnny W. Grant

Age: 82

Education: Goldsboro High School, 1940

Military: 1940-45, U.S. Army Air Corps; retired major general, State Military Reserve, California National Guard

Career: New York World’s Fair, 1940; “Stop the Clock” host 1946; KECA-TV, Los Angeles, 1950; White House Correspondent, 1965; “Johnny Grant at Universal Studio,” 1969-71; television and movies; 55 USO trips overseas

Movies: White Christmas, The Babe Ruth Story; played himself in The Oscar

Favorite movies: All Quiet on the Western Front, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone with the Wind

Philosophy: “You don’t have problems, you have challenges.”

Grant’s gift created an endowment in his name.

His post is honorary, as Hollywood is part of Los Angeles.

But in a city where appearance is everything, he has top billing.

He chairs the Walk of Fame Selection Committee that chooses celebrities to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and presides over the ceremony.

He lives in the city’s famed Hotel Roosevelt and counts celebrities young and old among his friends.

After graduation from Goldsboro High School, Grant headed for New York to begin a radio career.

He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, then moved to Hollywood, where his career included the movies “White Christmas” and “The Babe Ruth Story.”

In 25 years as Hollywood’s mayor, he has seen new stars arrive, but he still favors the old cadre, including his good friends Gene Autry and Bob Hope.

He is on the Hollywood Historic Trust and serves on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission.

In 1980 he received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Though Grant’s renown has earned him stars on both coasts, he believes in supporting the arts in his hometown.

“It’s important in a place like Goldsboro,” he says. “There should be arts and humanities in every village and every crossroads in the world. We could all use a little more culture.”

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