Remembering My Late Uncle, Actor Regis Toomey, On His Birthday Today, August 13th

14 Aug

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Uncle Regis was my mother’s older brother by 20 years and an actor with a long career spanning seven decades of movies and television. You can find his star on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Uncle Regis and his wife, Kathryn, were married 56 years and madly in love until her death in 1981. They had no children, although online biographies often say they had two. Aunt Kathryn was a dancer and choreographer whose claim to fame was choreographing Rose Marie in Paris. She did a lot of volunteer, charity work. My uncle’s full name is John Francis Regis Toomey, but he has been given many inaccurate names.

Regis Toomey performed on Broadway and in hundreds of movies and television shows and starred in lots of “B” movies in the 1930s before becoming a well-known character actor. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1941 for his role in Meet John Doe, a Frank Capra movie. Until just recently, he held a record in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest screen kiss with Jane Wyman (Ronald Reagan’s first wife) You’re In The Army Now, 1941.

Uncle Regis was a huge dog lover (as a kid, they used to follow him home from school) and he owned dogs most of his life. He was born in Pittsburgh and was already grown when the family moved to Upland, California in 1921 when my mother was two-years-old. He was of Irish descent, 100%, and the first Catholic president of Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of Pittsburgh. He was studying to become a lawyer before he turned to acting. His photographic memory made him a good law student, but also helped him to easily learn his lines when acting.

My uncle became good friends with Ronald Reagan when Reagan served as president of the Screen Actors Guild. Their friendship lasted until his final days when the Reagans were among the last people to see him before his death in 1991. He also recited the Gettysburg Address at President Reagan’s inauguration in January of 1981.

On a personal note, Uncle Regis was a great uncle and I’m happy that I got to know him better in my late teens and early twenties.

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7 Responses to “Remembering My Late Uncle, Actor Regis Toomey, On His Birthday Today, August 13th”

  1. Mary Dyer August 14, 2014 at 1:43 am #

    Such a neat story and memory of an Uncle. Very cool.

    Like

  2. Mary Dyer August 14, 2014 at 1:45 am #

    Thanks Veronica. Happy Birthday, Regis. Mary

    Like

  3. Nena Amaral August 14, 2014 at 2:47 am #

    Wow, what a guy! And 20 years older than your mom! Whoa! Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • veronicajames2013 August 17, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

      Yes, a big age difference. The story he told me is that my grandmother was worried that he would be lost in World War I and wanted to have another child. When he got back from the war, my mother had been born. Her birthday was January 15, 1919. My grandmother was 45 when she had my mom and my mom was 41 when she had me!

      Like

  4. Teresa Ellis June 11, 2016 at 1:32 am #

    Veronica:

    I’m curious to know if your uncle ever lived in Long Beach, CA. I worked at the Long Beach Main Library (and branches) from 1976-1978. There was a man named Regis Toomey that use to come in and check out books. At the time I didn’t know who he was. Years later, I was talking to my mother about the people that came into the library and that I remembered a man named Regis Toomey, basically because his name was different. She said, “Regis Toomey! He was an actor! He was in a lot of movies!” She proceeded to tell me all the movies he was in.

    I wasn’t a Hollywood history buff then, but I am now. If he was your uncle, I’m sorry that I didn’t know who he was then. Boy, could I have had some conversations with him!

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Teresa Ellis

    Like

    • veronicajames2013 November 3, 2016 at 10:00 pm #

      Hi Teresa, Thank you so much for your comments. During that period of time, my uncle was living with his wife in Brentwood, so I think it must have been a different Regis Toomey. I agree with you that it is an unusual name, especially to have the same spelling. My understanding is that it was spelled O’Toughmey when the family first came over from Ireland. I was in contact with my Uncle quite a bit during that time and I was trying to remember if there was anything that would have taken him into the Long Beach area on a regular basis and I couldn’t come up with anything. So, I guess it was just a coincidence. Again, thanks so much for reading the article and for your great comments!

      Like

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