A portion of St. Ann's Avenue in Copiague was renamed this week to honor Jerry Schatz, former child actor and U.S. Navy veteran.
At a ceremony Tuesday afternoon on the newly named Jerry Schatz Place, Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer called the 89-year-old Schatz, who got his start in the "Little Rascals" movies of the 1930s, "one of our own."
The line drew applause from a crowd of about 100 of Schatz's friends, neighbors and fellow veterans from VFW Post 9482, where he is a founding member.PhotosKevin James, more notable LI celebsPhotosChild stars then and now
Some of those in attendance recalled seeing Schatz in movies, where he used the name Jerry Tucker and played a character blessedly unlike himself.
The movie character -- a conspicuous consumer at a time when many Americans were just climbing out of the Depression -- "was a brat," said Marion Gaudioso, 84, who got to know Schatz as a shopper at F...D Supply, her family's hardware store.
"I used to watch him when I was a kid," said Lou Molinaro, 84, a fellow Korean War veteran and VFW member. "Fresh rich kid, spoiled."
The man himself, Gaudioso said, is "a great neighbor, sweet as anything."
"A swell guy," Molinaro said.
In an interview before the ceremony, Schatz filled in some of the details of his childhood career.
Discovered at a boxing match in his native Chicago by the president of Paramount Pictures, he lost his father at the age of 5 and for the next decade supported his mother and himself on wages as an actor that started at $7 a day, worth about $100 in today's dollars.
He tossed a football with Bing Crosby in between takes. He sat on Carole Lombard's lap. "None of it meant anything to me," he said. "There was no glamour. I was just a working actor."
When World War II broke out, Schatz joined the Navy and broke with Hollywood for good. "I went with my real name," he said. "I didn't want anybody on my ship to know I had been in movies at all. I wanted to be just a sailor."
He was, to be precise, a sonar technician who fought in 13 major engagements in the South Pacific. He received a Purple Heart after shrapnel hit his leg in a kamikaze attack off Okinawa that nearly destroyed the USS Sigsbee, the destroyer on which he served.
He and his wife, Myra, moved to Copiague after the war. She worked for the school district and he worked as an engineer in New York City. Their two daughters, Karen Duffy and Renee Wolf, recall hearing almost nothing about his acting career when they were children.
For Schatz, who wore an old Navy uniform and his VFW cap at the ceremony, a full life after Hollywood was more important than the decade he spent in front of the cameras.
"This guy is one of the rare birds nowadays," said Walter O'Connell, 69, a friend who first approached the town about the street renaming, in a phone interview. "He's honest, he's a hero. He's humble."