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Connie Sawyer To Celebrate 104th Birthday

In her first movie role, Connie Sawyer talks to Keenan Wynn in A Hole in the Head
Connie Sawyer, R, with Kim Darby and Ken Renard in the hanging scene of True Grit.

While she never achieved the box office-busting stardom of big celebrities, Connie Sawyer worked alongside many including Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and, more recently, a slew of today’s hottest actors.

In 1994, she taught Jim Carrey a lesson in “Dumb and Dumber.” She shared an elevator with George Clooney in “Out of Sight” in 1998 and, two years ago when she turned 102, she played Matt LeBlanc’s grandma in “Lovesick.”

“I call those young guys my boyfriends and have pictures of them on the door when you come into my little cottage,” said Ms. Sawyer from her home at the Motion Picture & Television retirement facility in Woodland Hills, California.

“We were on location for ‘Lovesick’ in a rugged mountain area not far from where I live,” recalled Sawyer who turns 104 on November 27. “My dressing room was next to Matt’s and whenever he heard me getting ready to come down the stairs he’d race out of his room to help me before an assistant could even get there. He was such a gentleman and gave me a goodbye kiss on the cheek when I left.”

Despite her age, Sawyer’s film career only dates back to the late 1950s.

“I started out in the 30s in vaudeville and later in nightclubs all over the country doing a comedy act – little routines telling stories and doing parodies rather than just jokes,” she said. “In the 1950s I was an understudy on Broadway, and then got a part in ‘A Hole in the Head.’ Frank Sinatra liked the play and bought the rights for the movie.”

As executive producer, Sinatra wanted Sawyer to revive her small role for the big screen.

“I played an elegant lady who goes out on the town each night and comes back to her hotel a little loaded!” she laughed.

Arriving a day early to size up the set layout for shooting, Sawyer bumped into a little guy in a baseball cap roaming the set.

“I figured he was cleaning up the place,” she recalled. “I told him I just wanted to see where I’d be doing my shtick. He suggested on the staircase which I said sounded fine, then asked why he cared. He turned out to be Frank Capra, the director!”

Modest roles continued fill out her career, including bit parts with John Denver in “Oh, God!” (1977), and in the hanging scene of Wayne’s “True Grit” (1969).

Despite never reaching that big star status, Sawyer happily still receives residuals from her roles with no regrets about her career.

“On the whole, it’s been a good one considering I began in nightclub dumps,” she said. “Frankie (Sinatra) told me ‘Never give up and you’ll always find a good part somewhere, sometime.’ And I did.”

And if an offer came her way today, would she take it?

“Oh sure, I’d consider it,” she responded. “I go on auditions, but I don’t get as many as I used to!”

Although she suffers from a little hearing loss and is slowed with mobility issues, she remains remarkably alert and charmingly feisty. She plans to celebrate her birthday with a lunch at Motion Picture and Television facility, followed by a trip to her daughter’s home with family for dinner where she will enjoy her favorite dessert — carrot cake!

And while she doesn’t credit carrots for the secret of long life, she offers an explanation with characteristic candor:

“Just get off your tuchus and keep moving.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. See www.tinseltowntalks.com

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