If you were a talent scout...
If you were a talent scout looking for that certain little rascal, one who could sing and tap dance, wouldn’t you pull this kid out of the lineup? Tommy moved from Denver to Burbank and was in the play On Borrowed Time, which got him the attention of Republic Studios that began tutoring Tommy to become the boy version of Shirley Temple.
Tommy Ivo was born in 1936, some 1,023 miles from Hollywood in sunny Denver where it can reach as high as 90 degrees—one month out of the year. Burr! Weather was the deciding factor for a move to the movie capital of the world. “My mother, Sara, had arthritis so bad she was practically in a wheelchair. She thought if we came to California we’d get into the good weather. We came out in 1943, just her and I, in the winter. My dad, Hans, who was a meat cutter, stayed home along with my brother, Don. We were pretty poor.
“Kids tap danced when I was a tyke instead of playing the guitar like today. I learned to tap dance so I could go up on the big stage to sing and dance. That’s what started my whole career. I was 7 when World War II was going on. The tap dancing class I was in was running all over town entertaining the soldiers. Everyone said to my mom, “He’s so cute you gotta take him to New York or Hollywood.
“They had a talent show at Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown L.A. where my mom would take me on Tuesday nights and I’d kill them and win the thing every time. The studios were looking for a kid who looked like actor Dennis O’Keefe [to play his] son in the movies. The movie was a musical so we all had to tap dance in the audition. They lined us up in a big room; I was missing my two front teeth. The director said, ‘I’ll have the one without teeth.’ That’s how I got into the movies. I must have had a little ability along the way because over the next 20 years I did about a hundred movies and a couple of hundred television shows.”
Tommy purchased this ’53 Buick...
Tommy purchased this ’53 Buick brand new with his movie money but the kids were always giving him the raspberry every time he drove it to high school … you know, daddy’s car. “Not even the principal had a new car,” Tommy laughs. “In the midst of frenching the headlights and taillights, I sprayed the shiny paintjob with primer and put big bright yellow polka dots and pink feet walking across the back. I drove by the school afterward and they were standing there with their jaws open.”
Tommy was in some memorable films, like I Remember Mama in 1948, starring Irene Dunne, where he played Cousin Arne, and the 1955 classic Blackboard Jungle, starring Glen Ford, where Tommy played a frightened student.
Tommy went to John Burroughs High School in Burbank where he took Industrial Arts. “I was breath and britches in school, I weighed 115 pounds. When I’d go to gym class, I’d stand in line when they were picking teams. There I was, ‘Please don’t let me be last, anything but last.’
“I wasn’t home that much because I would go and make a picture, and when I did, I had a private teacher. I went with a girl across the street and two houses up all the way through junior high and high school. We were going to get married when we got out of school. When her parents found out I was Protestant and she was Catholic they threw me out. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. That’s when I started working on cars, because all of a sudden I was without a girlfriend.
“When I was in the movie business I had to have a guardian, which was my mom, as well as a school teacher. I could only work for four hours a day. I started in the movies when I was 7. When I turned 18 I no longer needed a guardian. My mom was lost for something to do and that’s when I started drag racing between pictures and she became my parts chaser.