Tom Reese (real name: Tom Allen) was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on August 8, 1928; his father and uncle were country-western singers, “The Chattanooga Boys,” traveling around performing their bluegrass music with the family, including Tom, in tow. Around 1940 the Allens relocated to New York, where Tom’s dad supported the family working as a steelworker in the daytime and a singing waiter at night. Tom later held the expected assortment of odd jobs (Automat busboy, usher, etc.) in New York, and (starting at 17) served two tours of duty in the Marine Corps. He later studied dramatics at the American Theater Wing under the G.I. Bill and spent 15 years on the road working nightclubs (emceeing, doing stand-up, etc.). He studied with Lee Strasberg, did some work off-Broadway and in local TV shows and made his film bow in John Cassavetes’ New York-made Shadows (1958). Cassavetes also had Reese fly out to Hollywood to play a part in an episode of his detective series Johnny Staccato (1959), Reese’s Hollywood debut. He was ready to return to New York after doing the show but an agent signed him “and I’ve been here [California] ever since.” His first major film was Flaming Star (1960), an Elvis Presley western and the start of Reese’s long career in big- and small-screen oaters,including Gunsmoke (1955) Bonanza (1959), The Virginian (1962), Rawhide (1959), Branded (1965).
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