Street Talk: Carson City senior knew everybody in from Frank Sinatra to Bing Crosby

On this beautiful, crisp Sunday morning the day before Christmas, we're going to visit with a man whose real name you probably won't recognize but that's because not many know it.

"Everybody knows me as 'Smokey' and hardly anybody knows my real first name," said Manuel "Smokey" Lawrence. "Now they will."

Not only is Smokey well known around town, he knows and knew many "famous names" and was friends with the likes of John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton and tons of other people and we'll talk about that with Smokey and lots more right after I tell you about him.

Smokey is 79 years young. So is his wife Pat. He was born in Oakland and she in St. Louis. They've been married 55 years.

"We got married in Paris during WWII in 1945," said Smokey with a smile. "She was a WAC and I was in the 9th Air Force Corp. Pat was a radio operator and we met in France. We were in the same outfit. I made a date with her and we married two months later."

During the war, Smokey was "one of the ones" that went in at Normandy Beach.

"I went in from a ship on an LSD on D-Day Two and I made it through without getting hurt," he said. "I was discharged in December of 1945 and Pat and I settled in Oakland then."

Smokey worked at the Naval Air Station at Alameda as an aircraft mechanic and retired in 1972.

"That's when we came to Carson City," he said happily. "I knew Carson City pretty well from previous visits I had made here. At that time we bought some land, had our four-bedroom home built and we've been here ever since and happy ever since."

Pat and Smokey have two daughters. Patty lives in Oakland and is married to Kaare - "That's a South African name" - and they have two sons. Susie lives with husband, Darrell, in San Ramon, Calif. They also have two sons.

Pat is a volunteer for the Nevada State Museum and is a board member.

"I'm in charge of placement for the gift shop and for the volunteers and I'm a member of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Mountain Street," she said. "I belong to the church quilting club and I do various volunteer work for them."

THE MUSIC MAN

"I'm into music," said Smokey, who performed and recorded with the best in the business. "I'm a recording engineer. It's my hobby and I've been one for many, many years. I was a drummer first, did some recording and I recorded the big bands like Harry James, Stan Kenton - we were very good friends - Woody Herman and others.

"When I moved up here I got involved with John Ascauga, had an in and started recording in this area. I knew everybody in the business. I also did many movies with people like Clint Eastwood, Jack Klugman, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley McClaine and more .... Oh God, there were so many of them. Let me show you my music room."

I wasn't prepared for what I saw. In his "Music room" which is a big room, Smokey has more than 400 photos on his "photo wall" featuring Smokey and just about every "big name" you can think of.

"I took a lot of them and am in a lot of them," he said as he showed me some he took of Sinatra. "Frank was a very close friend who I knew very well. He was a great guy. I knew him from the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Buddy Rich was the drummer and that's how I met them. I knew Frank for over 50 years .... He really was a great guy!"

Smokey knew and had photos of his friends "from the business" like Bing Crosby and more than I can list here.

"Unbelievable isn't it?" he said, a huge grin on his face. "Guess I was just a lucky man to have met and become friends with them."

Also in Smokey's music room and in his garage are old 45, 78 and 33 1/3 records. Tons of records. More than you can imagine.

"I have over 20,000 records of everybody in the world," he said as we went through the stacks and stacks of them. "I have everyone from those big bands and Frank to Elvis and anybody who ever made a recording, I probably have it here someplace."

He laughed at that before continuing.

"And over here I have lots of tape and film and recorders, amplifiers, speakers, disc players and 8-track recorders and players," he said as he showed them all. "I can do anything with regard to recording and broadcasting."

He still does from time to time and he will never part with his collection.

"My kids and grandkids will get them when I'm gone," he added. "I'll never sell them. They are a part of my life. I've had a great life and feel very fortunate to have met so many great people."

THAT NICKNAME

I asked Smokey how and when he got his nickname.

"I was 17 and playing drums at a smokey ballroom and somehow they hung that nickname on me and it stuck," he said proudly. "It stuck all through the service and through life. I like it."

Smokey said he played the drums "like Buddy Rich" and played that style of drums when he performed.

HOLIDAY PLANS

Before we tell you what Smokey and Pat have planned for the holiday a little more about their family because that's where they will be going for Christmas.

First, let me tell you that Pat's mom, Alice, is alive and is 102 years old.

"She lives in a rest home in Missouri," said Pat. "My dad Lucian died from cancer when he was 70. I'm the oldest of five. One brother has passed away and my two brothers and one sister all live in Missouri. Their names are Joe, Lowell and Doris."

Smokey has one younger brother Tony who lives "just outside of Stockton" and both their parents have passed away.

"Dad, Joaquin, was a foundry worker in Oakland," said Smokey. "He died from lung disease at 74. Mom, Isabell, died at 57 from heart problems."

Pat and Smokey are going to California for Christmas.

"We go every year and this year we're going to Susie and Darrell's home," he noted cheerfully. "The whole family comes and we have a great time. We've been doing that since we moved here. I drive there. I love to drive and Pat and I love to travel. We're enjoying our life in Carson City. We've got a lot of friends here and are very happy.

"We wish everybody in Carson City a very merry Christmas and a great new year!"

I wish you all the same and hope you have a great Christmas and a fantastic new year!

Alan Rogers is a Nevada Appeal columnist. His message phone is 887-2430, ext. 402.

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