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Don Ameche On A Roll : At 77, He's Not Trading Places With Anyone

January 23, 1986|JOAN HANAUER | United Press International TV Writer

NEW YORK — Don Ameche has made two movies in the last few years, each of which grossed nearly $100 million -- which he says is not bad for a 77-year-old actor who for 12 years before that was not offered a single film role.

"How many people in their 20s have a run like this?" Ameche asked in an interview, his voice still as thick and creamy as fudge.

The films were "Trading Places," starring Eddie Murphy, and "Cocoon," which made old age attractive enough so that youth might aspire to it.

His latest venture is "A Masterpiece of Murder," in which Bob Hope makes his television movie debut. The light-hearted mystery airs on NBC Monday, 8-10 p.m., and the cast also includes Stella Stevens, Jamie Farr, Yvonne De Carlo, Jayne Meadows, Kevin McCarthy, Clive Revill and Frank Gorshin.

"I play a man who was formerly a cat-burglar," Ameche said. "He was put in jail after being apprehended by the Bob Hope character. While in jail he spent a lot of time in the library. He decided far and away the percentages for getting to be a wealthy man were in real estate and stocks and bonds.

"When he got out of prison he went straight and became a multi-millionaire, a very high-liver who goes everywhere in his private helicopter or on his yacht. He never married, has no particular charities, lives a life of self-gratification.

"The Bob Hope character is a policeman turned private investigator who also was in pursuit of making a million--by playing the horses. He wound up just where you think he wound up. He never married--never had enough money for a marriage license. He's read two books in his life --'How to Bet on the Horses' and 'How to Get Home From the Track."'

The two former adversaries become reluctant partners in trying to solve a string of art thefts and murders that involve underground art collections.

High living has not been Ameche's life style. Back in Hollywood's heyday, Ameche was a major star. When he played Alexander Graham Bell in 1939, the movie made such an impression that people jokingly talked about answering "the Ameche."

That was around the time a small but important incident occurred.

"I never 'went Hollywood,"' he said. "Perhaps some of my behavior was detrimental to my career, but I couldn't go the route of Hollywood parties."

Ameche, the father of six children, said he never wanted his kids exposed to "tinsel town stuff."

"I came home one day and two of my children had been to a birthday party for a 4-year-old boy. My wife told me the woman who gave the party told her she had spent $25,000 for entertainment--that was 1938-39, so it would be like spending $750,000 today. For a party for 4 year olds.

"I told my wife, 'That's the last birthday party my children go to in this town.' And it was."

Eventually he moved to the Midwest and then to the East, where he returned to the Broadway stage.

"There will be no 'Mommie Dearest' in the lives of my children," he said, "and no books like the one the Crosby boy wrote about Bing, or Bette Davis's daughter has written. My children love me very much and they are loved.

"It's been a beautiful life. You're talking to a man with no regrets. But to have all this happen at 77, well, it's more appreciated than it would have been when I was younger. And I hope I handle it more gracefully."

As for those 12 years when no one submitted a script for him to read, he said, "I've always accepted things as they were. God was awfully good to me during the good days."

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