1934 saw the Chattanooga Boys break-up and Lee went back to Tennessee while Austin stayed in New York City, 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 (five years in total).
Later, Tom did impressions of singers on the road in various clubs and
studied theatre on his GI Bill in New York after he got out of the Marines
in ‘51. This was in the American Theater Wing
and John Cassavetes’ Actors Workshop. He 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 (1959). 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
he has been in 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.
Above left: Tom Reese in Shadows (1959)
One would have thought that Reese would have had a somewhat easier time during a tussle with Woody Allen in Sleeper (1973). However, as Gene Freese (3) noted in his 2017 book, Reese was injured during a scene with Allen and received 12 weeks of workers’ comp. It was a knee injury, Leinenweber said, and it plagued Reese for the rest of his life. Freese wrote that when the actor “arrived in Hollywood, Reese felt obliged to do his own fights until he realized he was keeping stuntmen from their checks.”
Tom Reese was a masterful villain, but he'll always be best remembered for
his good guy role, Sgt. Velie, a cigar chomping, bull-in-a-china shop
cop on the TV show Ellery Queen. While the character of
Sergeant Velie as the good Inspector's "right-hand man" is a necessary
device, he makes it much more than that. He rarely smiles, gives us very
few glimpses into the home-life of Velie, but yet still manages to make
us feel he's part of our family (sort of the stern big brother type.)
The main trait he conveys is that you know you can count on Velie. If
the Inspector gives him a task, he'll be there to do it.
Until 2010 Tom was known to still attend conventions and film festivals.
His longtime friend Charles Leinenweber announced in March 2018
that Reese had died Dec. 12 2017 at a hospice facility in
Studio City after a brief illness.
|This actor profile is a part of the Ellery Queen a website on deduction. The actor above played Velie in the 1975-76 TV-series of Ellery Queen.|
Page first published on November 23. 2016
Latest update Septemberl 30. 2018
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