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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9 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

  5. Jean M DeCollibus November 6, 2019 at 12:56 am #

    HI Veronica
    My mother Helen Donnelly Crimmins used to say that she was Regis Toomey’s cousin (first?, second?). She was related on her paternal (Arthur Donnelly) side. My mother grew up in NJ, but her parents hailed from Pittsburgh…so that fits. She mentioned a child named Ophelia, after Shakespeare’s Ophelia (kind of a put down that my grandfather laughed at as a joke!) My mother had 6 siblings, but I don’t know that she ever met Regis. He would have been about 20 years older than she.
    Can you share any other information, or know of any other connections?

    I am Jean Crimmins DeCollibus. I am one of 4 daughters of Matthew and Helen Crimmins. My parents moved to Massachusetts before I was born. I still live in MA, south of Boston.

    Like

    • veronicajames2013 May 19, 2021 at 4:52 am #

      I just noticed this and don’t know if I replied to you when you first sent this. I’m sorry if I didn’t. Haven’t done much with my blog for a while. It sounds like we are related. My grandmother was Marie (not Mary as reported online) Ellen Donnelly Toomey and my mother was 20 years younger than Uncle Regis and had two other older siblings, Ord and Othelia, not Ophelia, but people would always think that. The Toomeys were from Pittsburgh, where my mother was born in 1919. They moved to Upland, California in 1921, when my mother was two. I believe that Uncle Regis was already out of the family home but I’m not certain on the timeline of events and everyone who would know is now gone. Contrary to some online biographies, Uncle Regis and his wife Aunt Kathryn, had no children. They adored my mother, but they were childless. In fact, I have no cousins. All my aunts and uncles were childless. Anyway, Uncle Regis attended and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. I know he was in WW1, along with his father, my grandfather, and he worked on Broadway and on stage in Europe. His first movie was Alibi in 1929. He played Danny McGann. I’ve started working a little bit on ancestry.com but haven’t spent much time on it. That’s where I learned that my grandfather was also in WW1. I already knew that Uncle Regis was because of a story he told me about leaving for the war and then my mother being born when he got back home in 1919. Hope this helps a little. I know that my mother’s side of the family is also related to the McKeirnans and that the Toomeys are of Irish descent – 100%. Again, I apologize for the lateness of this reply.

      Like

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