What do John Glenn, Jacques Cousteau, Ronald Reagan, Marilyn Monroe and Union County have in common?
The answer might surprise you: Waxhaw newcomer Chuck DeMund.
Chuck has Quirky Claims to Fame (QCFs) involving all four. He wouldn't have volunteered them. But his wife, Janice, let the cat out of the bag. Perhaps to give her a dose of her own medicine, Chuck revealed that Janice has a QCF involving John Wayne.
The information slipped out during an informal breakfast club that meets regularly at the Palace Restaurant in Monroe. I was invited by Bill Maynard, who was featured in this column a couple of years ago.
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Janice and Chuck have joined the breakfast regulars, and Bill told me he thought I might enjoy meeting them. As usual, he was right.
But what really caught my attention, in the buzz around the pushed-together tables, was Janice saying that Marilyn Monroe sat on Chuck's shoulder during a scene in the movie “Bus Stop.”
That's the kind of revelation that should make a room go silent. But the din of the diner made it difficult to hear details, so I arranged to call them later.
“I was an extra,” Chuck explained. “The 1956 movie was filmed partly in Phoenix, where I lived at the time. The guy that was the co-star (Don Murray) wasn't strong enough to hold her up on his shoulder, so she sat on my shoulder instead.”
His head is turned away during that scene, so only the back of his cowboy hat is visible as Marilyn sits on his right shoulder.
“She seemed a very nice person,” he said. “Very shy. And, I thought, quite a nice lady.”
A few years later, Chuck earned another QCF.
“I was involved with fishing John Glenn out of the ocean when he flew in February of 1962,” he said.
Chuck was a cinematographer for General Dynamics, he explained, and “was lucky enough” to be assigned to document the recovery portion of Glenn's historic orbit around the world.
“I knew John because I had done some filming with him before,” he said, adding that the two went scuba diving and water skiing on occasion.
And then Chuck volunteered another QCF: “I also had lunch with President Reagan in the White House,” he said. That honor recognized Chuck's efforts in the “Vote America” campaign, which encouraged 18-year-olds to register to vote.
“It was a thrill, to say the least,” he said.
I discovered another QCF during a Google search: Chuck went scuba diving with legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
“I met Cousteau in the '60s when he accepted my invitation to give the keynote speech at a symposium I chaired in San Diego,” he explained. “A few years later we did a number of dives off Catalina Island in California when he was there filming for his TV show.”
His wife, Janice, also rubbed shoulders with fame.
When she worked at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, Calif., John Wayne “was one of the patients,” she said. “Robert Taylor was one, too.”
The staff at Scripps particularly enjoyed Wayne's visits because “he used to buy See's chocolates and leave a box of chocolate for everyone,” she said.
After enjoying such a colorful life on the West Coast, I had to ask what brought them to Union County.
“Because of our kids and grandkids here, and the cost of living here,” Chuck answered. “When you get to be 75 years old, you think about things like that.”