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Tom Tully never knew he had a Hollywood star. His grandchildren found it decades after his death

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Actor Tom Tully, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1954 and died in 1982, never knew he had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
(Photo by Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Dave Kirchner remembers the first time he read that Thomas Tully had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

He wondered whether it belonged to his late grandfather, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the 1954 film “The Caine Mutiny.” After a four-decade career in Hollywood, he moved to Newport Beach, where much of his family still lives.

Tully is in “The Caine Mutiny” for less than 15 minutes, but legend has it that his character, Lt. Cmdr. William De Vriess, was only supposed to be in the first part of the film before being replaced by Humphrey Bogart’s Capt. Queeg but the filmmakers liked him so much that they brought him back for the ending.

In 1956 and ’57, when committees were selecting the honorees to be placed in the inaugural Hollywood Walk of Fame, Tully was not only a recent Oscar nominee, but he was on television every week in “The Lineup,” a popular cop drama that ran for six seasons on CBS and later played in syndication re-named “San Francisco Beat.”

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“He wasn’t a top-level Hollywood actor, but he did work with them all,” says Mark Kirchner, Dave’s brother, who especially enjoys a scene in 1955’s “Soldier of Fortune,” where Clark Gable angrily lifts Tully up by his ears.

Tully’s obituary quotes his wife Ida Johnson: “We used to kid him that he was Hollywood’s father, because he played so many gals’ fathers, including Liz Taylor, Natalie Wood and Shirley Temple.”

Tully always told his family that his fan club wanted to raise $5,000 to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He said he told his fans he appreciated it, but that they needn’t waste their time nor their money. And that was the end of his story.

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To add to the confusion, the name on the star — which sits just outside the Pep Boys on Hollywood Boulevard near Gower Street — reads “Thomas L. Tully.” Their grandfather’s middle name is Kane.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame’s official website describes the star as being Tully’s, but they thought it could be internet misinformation.

Below their website’s Tom Tully entry is a comment left by Mark in 2011 asking if this listing was true, and if so, whether the initial could be changed.

The star became a topic of family debate at holiday gatherings.

Mark, who at 57 is Dave’s older brother by six years, fancies himself the logical one.

“I just kept thinking, ‘There’s no way that you’re gonna make that kind of error, put the letters in marble in concrete and leave it there for all these years,’ ” he says.

But Dave had an equally logical argument. The Thomas L. Tully he found on IMDB only has five acting credits, the most prominent being the role of reporter in the 1991 movie “The Rocketeer.”

“There is no way [he] has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” Dave said.

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It wasn’t until they learned that in 2010, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Walk of Fame star was discovered to be misspelled just minutes before its unveiling ceremony, that Mark started to think maybe the organization could have made an error.

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When Dave Kirchner, left, discovered that Thomas Tully had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he thought it must be their grandfather’s. His brother Mark thought it had to be someone else’s. How could an actor have a Hollywood star that he never knew about?
(Photo courtesy of Mark Kirchner)

Mark’s impending birth was announced by Tully on the “Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon” in 1961, and as a kid, Mark remembers playing on the set of the 1966 TV show “Shane,” a western starring Tully, David Carradine and Christopher Shea, the voice of Linus in “Charlie Brown.”

But the window of time where Tully’s grandchildren witnessed any Hollywood glamour opened and closed very quickly, says Mark.

They grew up in Newport Beach, and by the time David was old enough to remember, Tully (who they called Papa Tom) was an amputee. He had lost one of his legs after contracting a disease during a USO hand-shake tour in Vietnam, where he was entertaining troops.

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Mark and Dave Kirchner have a collection of memorabilia from their grandfather Tom Tully’s Hollywood days, including his Academy Award nomination certificate, original bound scripts and hats he wore. Some were handed down to them, and others were purchased from eBay.
(Photo by Mark Kirchner)

Mark and Dave mostly knew their grandfather as a man who loved fly-fishing, played chess by mail and recorded animated readings of children’s books for their elementary school.

It wasn’t until after their grandfather’s death that they would get chances to watch Tully’s films on Tom Hatten’s “KTLA Family Film Festival,” which played classic movies on TV from 1978 to 1992. And when TiVo came out in 1999, they started to find his appearances on old episodes of “Bonanza,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” (Tully played Dick Van Dyke’s father.)

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They continue to make new discoveries.

Some — like the Camarillo couple Mark met at a book-binding meeting who told him that Tully made a kind gesture to help them get into his country club when they were young when he found out they couldn’t afford it — give a clearer picture of their grandfather.

But others — like the nine months Tully was uncharacteristically out of work during the Hollywood blacklist, when he refused to join the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals — remain mysteries.

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A group of photographs from Mark Kirchner’s collection documents Tom Tully’s trip to Vietnam to entertain the troops in November 1969. Tully, who served in the U.S. Navy, comes from a family of veterans and helped fund the Brotherhood Rally of All Veteran’s Organization.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Kirchner)

Mark remembers the phone call to the Hollywood Walk of Fame’s vice president of media relations, Ana Martinez, who confirmed that the star belonged to Thomas Tully, born 1908 in Durango, Colo.

“My mouth dropped,” said Mark. “I said, ‘Dave’s right.’ And I’m happy he’s right, because now we have star.”

Martinez explains that Tully’s star was one of the inaugural 1,558 stars that were placed in 1960 to create the Walk of Fame. But because there were no ceremonies back then, there are no remaining records that could give more information or explain why Tully didn’t know about it.

In her three decades of working at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Martinez says she’s never heard of a recipient (other than those who receive one posthumously) who didn’t know they had a star.

“We’ve all made personal pilgrimages to the star to see it,” says Mark, of his family members. “To take pictures and wonder what it would have been like if our grandfather and grandmother knew it was there.”

He says he can imagine his grandfather being proud, but also shrugging it off as a part of the public spectacle of Hollywood that was never that important to him.

Nowadays, the Kirchners know that most people haven’t heard of “The Caine Mutiny,” let alone Tom Tully.

But the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a registered historic landmark. So even when there are no more stories to tell and no more keepsakes to collect, the star — with the wrong middle initial in the marble in the cement — will remain.

Mark Kirchner is a photography adjunct instructor at Soka University. His photography during annual Manzanar pilgrimages from 1983 to 2018 is part of the “Manzanar Pilgrimage” exhibit that is at the Manzanar National Historic Site through July 28.

Dave Kirchner works for the Transportation Security Administration in LAX. He helps produce a weekly informational program for TSA’s internal news app available to all agents in select airports around Southern California.

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