IMAGINE is a mind game for people of all ages. You let your mind run free on all things, great and small. It’s fantasy. Stuff you find in day and night dreams. It used to be fodder for columnists on brain freeze days.
For years, I dreamed of being a movie star. I sat in junior and senior high school classes, oblivious to teachers and writing imaginary movie casts that had me top-billed opposite everyone from Clark Gable to John Wayne to Sidney Poitier. My love interests ranged from Greta Garbo to Jean Harlow to Myrna Loy to Lena Horne to Dorothy Dandridge.
My filmography began with “Introducing Garry Armstrong as ____” to my biggest box office film with the marquee showing GARRY ARMSTRONG in “AMERICA’S ICON,” A Garry Armstrong Production.
Then there was my All-Star baseball career. In those same high school notebooks, I wrote lineups that had me batting between Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider for my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. I was the full-time left fielder the Dodgers never could find. Little Sandy Amoros filled in for me during the ’55 World Series to make that amazing catch against Yogi Berra. Dick Young of The New York Daily News wrote a column calling me a credit to my race and a likely successor to Jackie Robinson.
I played “fungo” and shagged flies in the outfield with a young “bonus baby” pitcher named Sandy Koufax. Sandy was very wild but it was obvious he had talent.
Fast forward to the 1970’s. In the real world, I was a young TV news reporter in Boston and becoming something of a local celebrity. It’s easy when you appear on television several times a day. People greet you, shake your hand, and ask for autographs. It wasn’t enough. I still needed my IMAGINE mind game. I used to check myself in the mirror, fully dressed for work. I’d talk to the mirror, chatting with an imaginary TV audience.
“It’s good to be here”, I told the audience, “Johnny’s not feeling well and the NBC folks asked me to fill in. Anything for my friend, Johnny”. Yes, I was sub-hosting “The Tonight Show.” I absorbed the applause as I headed out the door for the real world TV news room.
These imagined “Tonight” show appearances occurred before Robert DeNiro’s “King of New York” movie. DeNiro’s imagined and delusional TV celebrity was a little too close to home for me. I never watched it again.
Remember I dreamed of becoming a movie star? Delusional, right? My niche as a TV news reporter was rising. I was interviewing and socializing with legendary movie stars like Katherine Hepburn, James Cagney, Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, and Gregory Peck among others. This was real life. It still wasn’t enough.
Robert Redford and an all-star cast were filming “The Great Gatsby” in Newport, Rhode Island. I was assigned to cover the film shoot.
I was a familiar face in Rhode Island. So people approached me for autographs as I sought interviews with Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston and other Hollywood stars. It was truly bizarre! Someone dropped my named with an assistant producer and I wound up as a bit player. At nights, after filing my live shots and taped reports, I would imagine myself being promoted from bit player to major star in the movie. After a few drinks, I could swear I had an early call to work with “Bob and Mia”.
I DID have an early call … to do my TV shots on the film production. My imagined self conflicted with my real self as I did the TV live shots.
It got more confusing when Redford and some of the other movie stars watched as we were doing our TV live shots. I recall “Bob” smiling and giving me a thumbs up after I finished one live shot. A few more drinks sandwiched between the movie and TV work and my days were spinning a bit off kilter. The filming wrapped. The stars went home to Hollywood. My bit part ended up on the cutting room floor, although I think I may have made it in a crowd scene.
Back in Boston, I received lots of attention from friends because of my hobnobbing with the movie people. I think teasing would be closer to the truth. It was business as usual. Murders, fires, politics and perverts to cover for the newscasts.
I had trouble re-kindling my IMAGINE game. There was too much drama going on in the real world.
Garry as moderator on panel for prison reform (2016)
Fast forward again into my retirement years. I tried my hand at “background acting” in some major films being shot locally. It was just “extra” work, but some hopefuls like the “background acting” term. Sounds fancier. I briefly imagined myself being discovered as a “mature” movie star. I even mingled with some of the stars in the movies I worked. Once again, all of my scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
Garry’s acceptance speech at Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013
Finally, the hours and days reminded me too much of my years as a TV news reporter. Too long. I hated getting up early.
I bid adieu to my dreams of movie stardom. I don’t need the IMAGINE game anymore.