As Mr. Hodges has been serving in this capacity for over thirty years now, I have absolutely no doubt that he is very good within his professional field. But he had once also been equally good in another professional area. Mr. Hodges had been one of the premier child entertainers from the late fifties to the late sixties.
Why I am writing about him now—never having met the man and having no great interest in entertainers—is one of those curious cases of one thing leading to another. In an effort to sharpen my skills as a review writer, I had been surfing the web trying to find examples of reviews by the late Walter Kerr, the highly renowned theater critic for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times. The first review by Mr. Kerr that I happened upon was of The Music Man, my favorite Broadway musical comedy ever.
That led me to dust off my original Broadway cast album and once again enjoy the inestimable delights of Meredith Willson’s “valentine” to his native Iowa. At age ten, Mr. Hodges had been the original “Winthrop Paroo”—the subsequent movie role which helped launch the career of Ron Howard. (Fictional characters do not age. Unfortunately, the same is not true for us. Thus, Mr. Hodges would have been too old five years later when the movie was made to reprise his role along with Robert Preston, the quintessential “Professor” Harold Hill.)
Mr. Hodges then went on to make several film/TV appearances, playing along side such giants of entertainment as Henry Fonda, Tony Randall, Dick Van Dyke, Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Elvis Presley and many others, including Frank Sinatra with whom Mr. Hodges sang the hit song “High Hopes” in the movie A Hole in the Head. Additionally, Mr. Hodges had four songs that made the Billboard 100, with “I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door” reaching twelve.
Mr. Hodges had been an extraordinarily talented and poised youngster. The part of Winthrop is an especially challenging one for any child actor. Not only did Mr. Hodges have to jettison his native Mississippian accent and sound like he was from Iowa, but he had to also affect his character’s lisp while singing and talking in the process. Unlike Ron Howard’s case, Mr. Hodges had to do this live, night after night, in a multimillion dollar Broadway production with the show’s principals and investors counting on him not to drop the ball. That’s a lot of weight to have put on any kid’s shoulders. Click to continue: