Ace Lundon: Pendleton
BY JIM BELSHAW
About a month before Ace Lundon
embarked on a 1966-1972 show business run that would entertain an
audience estimated at 750,000, he found himself sitting next to a
lone Marine while on a business trip to Minneapolis. They struck
up a conversation. Lundon said he did personal management and
public relations work for entertainers in Los Angeles. The
Marine’s line of work was evident. His next business trip would be
“He asked if it would be possible
for me to bring some stars down to Camp Pendleton to meet him and
his buddies before they shipped out,” Lundon said.
Back home in California, Lundon
mentioned the conversation to his then-wife (they’re now divorced)
Jean London (they spell their last names differently). She
suggested they contact friends in the business to see if they’d be
Lundon checked with the base
Special Services office at Camp Pendleton. The officer in charge
enthusiastically encouraged Lundon to pursue the project. In 1966,
he brought the first “show” to the Marine base, though in truth it
wasn’t a show at all. The “cast” consisted of three people—Jean
London, her photojournalist friend Joyce Widoff, and Jane Darwell,
the veteran actress who had won an Academy Award for her role as
Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.
“It wasn’t a live show, but it was
a beginning,” Lundon said.
They met twelve appreciative
Marines. When the visit ended, the Special Services section
commander challenged them to return with a live show for a larger
group of Marines scheduled to leave for Vietnam in about a month.
Lundon called Sherri Alberoni, a former Mousketeer. A new group
returned to Camp Pendleton. But it wasn’t quite what any of them
had in mind that time, either.
“Again, it wasn’t a show,” he
writes on an Internet website being constructed to memorialize the
productions. “But it helped us realize our lives might count for
something very worthwhile that was appreciated by our American
When they returned the next month,
they brought the makings of a full-blown show—a band,
entertainers, comics, actors, actresses, and Jean London, who was
a natural on stage. She went to Vietnam three times to do USO
So began “The Jean London Show” at
the San Onofre Outdoor Theater of the Marine Corps. The troupe
returned to Camp Pendleton every month until 1973, a string of
performances that Lundon said became the longest running, and the
only sustaining monthly show in the history of the armed forces.
“That’s how it began and we gave no
thought of how many more shows we might be invited to,” he said.
“They continued, however, and became a regular monthly set-aside
date on all our calendars.”
When it finally came to an end,
Lundon said a Marine Corps officer told him they had entertained
around three-quarters of a million servicemen and women. Lundon
became the show’s director and co-producer.
“It was my task as show director to
try and give the audience something that might provide a fantasy
to help them through the crap of reality we were living with,” he
writes on his website,
www.vietnamjeanlondonshow.com “We were all in the same boat
He recalled that in the show’s earliest days nearly everyone he
talked to in Hollywood told him it couldn’t be done. The job was
too big. But telling him it couldn’t be done ran counter to a
lifetime of ignoring such doomsayers, though Lundon knew well that
putting together any variety show is something of a logistical
miracle when done only once. Putting together a show every
month—and one peopled exclusively by volunteers for seven
consecutive years—is a quantum leap in the miracle business.
Each Camp Pendleton show comprised
25 to 60 performers. Lundon soon constructed a base of regulars, a
loyal and dedicated production staff, and then sought other
Hollywood luminaries to give their time. He said it made no
difference if the pursuit lasted years. He kept after them.
He found most show business people
opposed to the war in Vietnam, but it made no difference in their
willingness to participate. When political eyebrows were raised,
Lundon pressed on. He said he had little time to argue with those
who wanted to make political hay out of the Pendleton shows.
“Because I was out securing talent,
I would hear things like ‘You mean you support the war?’” he said.
“I hadn’t even considered the question. I remember thinking, ‘What
are you talking about?’ I would tell people, ‘We support the men
who are over there fighting.’ They’d say, ‘How can you do these
shows if you don’t support the war?’ And I’d say, ‘We support the
men. Doesn’t that make sense to you?’ If they said it didn’t make
sense to them, I said, ‘Oh, the hell with you. We’re
This year, while going through a lifetime of show business
memories, Lundon realized he was “sitting on a treasure trove of
photo history.” With a website designer, he has begun putting
together a photo-rich history of the seven years he and a group of
show business performers brought a moment of respite to Marines
headed for Vietnam.
“As nearly 40 years have passed, I
still remember the smiles, cheers, laughter, and applause of the
audiences,” he writes. “We still remember the pain of war and
shall never forget the sacrifices of our American military