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The Sunday Profile : By George : He's a celebrity, a paperboy and a bit of a rogue. He's George Scott--Catalina's cankerous character.

October 23, 1994

AVALON — The rusty Jeep in George Scott's driveway is acting as irascible as its owner, a cantankerous old codger refusing to move at any speed but its own, sassing the world in a series of clanks, sputters and spits.

Everything about the gas guzzler looks shiftless, like a shell that's left over after a hard night's carousing. For one, its steering wheel is on the wrong side. Its body is white on top and a sick Rustoleum green down below, as though some blind man with a brush foolishly tried to gloss over its imperfections.

And while it may be another day here in paradise, the man who calls himself as the oldest paperboy on the planet has a real problem: The dailies have arrived late by air from the mainland. Down at the pier, anxious customers wander aimlessly, awaiting their news fix.

So Nelly here picks this day to act like the crotchety old pack mule that she is.

"This Jeep here fits right in with the guy driving," Scott says, removing his signature cowboy hat with the sweat-stained band. "It does what it dang well pleases. I keep it looking this run-down for reasons of taxes and thievery. And frankly, sometimes I think it gets mad at me."

Moments later, he rumbles down a pock-marked dirt road, his sometimes-loyal Jeep buried under a mountain of bundled newspapers--an Okie wagon headed for the Promised Land. As the contraption backfires its way down Catalina Avenue toward the newspaper vending boxes, onlookers stop to watch and smile. For nearly 50 years now, Scott, his newspapers, and his goofball humor and homespun philosophies have been familiar entertainment on this tiny island, making people laugh at themselves--but mostly at George.

A happy-go-lucky party boy who first landed in Avalon in 1947 as a semi-pro softball pitcher, Scott immediately found his spiritual home here, sticking to the place like a crusty old barnacle--each night shooting the breeze at his designated park bench near the town's picturesque pier, engaging locals and tourists alike.

But just being a character has never been enough for Scott, who refuses to give his real age, insisting that he was "born in the year of Our Lord." (Speculating locals pose wild, blundering guesses--from 55 clear up to the 80s.) He has put his gum-flapping to work, serving four terms as a city councilman and two as mayor of the island burg--26 miles and an entire world off the mainland. Now he's at it again. Defeated in April in his bid for a third mayoral term, Scott is now eyeing the City Council seat vacated by the man who beat him, to be decided in the November election.

"Yeah, George is running. Again," says a county sheriff's deputy on foot patrol near the pier. "Running for office is just a normal thing for George to do. Everybody knows how he just craves the limelight. He thrives on it. We just thank God there's only one George Scott around here. This island couldn't handle two of them."

And now, thanks to a series of quirky regional television commercials for Jeep featuring some of his classic one-liners and off-the-cuff nonsense, Scott has a newfound celebrity status--not only among locals but also the hoards of tourists who flock here each weekend. Shot on location in Avalon, the bits show Scott selling Jeep wagons with the panache of an island Cal Worthington.

Nowadays, tourists yell, "Hey, George!" and "Way to go, Georgie boy!" And while he has always considered himself a ladies' man, Scott never anticipated this: Old friends--and girlfriends--have looked him up. Total strangers--many of them girls young enough to be his grandchildren--approach him on the street for a hug, a kiss, a back slap or high-five. People like Lin Forino, an Orange County tourist who hailed down Scott as he folded papers: "George, I've got to hand it to you, you're your own man. I admire your spirit. When I saw you and your Jeep, I just had to take a picture. Do you mind?"

Dressed in a faded T-shirt with the words "Help Stamp out Footprints," baggy blue jeans with rolled-up cuffs and, of course, that hat, Scott smiles his best campaign smile. "Do I mind?" he asks in a voice as gravelly as a Santa Catalina back road. "Hell, I love the attention!"

Some say Scott's quest for yet another public office is all about just that--attention. Although some applaud his seemingly insatiable civic appetite, others believe he ought to let some younger candidates take a shot at local government.

"He's loony, he's a fruitcake, he's crazy," says one elderly woman voter parked on a downtown bench. "I wouldn't vote for George Scott in a million years. Are you kidding?"

But barber Frank Saldana would: "We need politicians like George Scott, he's a regular guy," Saldana says. "He's always frank with you. He doesn't run and hide like the rest. George is comfortable with both paupers and kings. Hell, I knew him before he started drinking. And that was a long time ago."

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