Mason Reese, age 11, in 1978: "I'd walk down the street and people would go, 'Hey Borgasmord!' They didn't know my name then, but they do now."
Mason Reese, age 16, 1982: "I walk down the street and still, 10, 20, 30 people a day will recognize me. I've had quite a few people come up and say to me, 'Weren't you Mason Reese?' And I just say I guess I still am."
Fame at an early age: Mason Reese, called by a newspaper writer "the grand old man of little boys," a red-haired Cupid of commercials, and on talk shows at age 6, a master of the rapid retort, hasn't been seen on the screen for a while. You may remember Reese as the kid from the Underwood Deviled Ham commercial who mangled (adorably) the word "smorgasbord" so it came out "borgasmord." Or as Dunkin' Donuts' Dunkin' Munchkin. Or if you remember real hard, as Ivory Snow's loquacious 4-year-old (his first commercial). So it's a surprise at first to hear that the distinctive squeegee voice, remembered from 52 commercials, has become so deep.
And of course he's grown, but not much. "I'm about 4 feet 10 1/2 inches, pushing maybe 4 feet 11 inches. I guess I'll have to wear the Tony Orlando heels," he jokes over the phone, from the midtown Manhattan apartment where he lives with his actress mother, Sonia. "I'm always gonna be short, can't change that. But you know what they say, good things come in small packages. I met Brooke Shields. To his mother: 'No, she's taller than that--she's huge! She's 5 feet 11 1/2 inches." That's okay, I'll probably pretend I'm Dudley Moore."
He's proud of the fact that he's lost weight. "I was really letting myself go, and I decided enough is enough. I can't look like the Goodyear Blimp. So I went down to a North Carolina weight camp and lost 40 pounds." This from a boy whose giggly endorsements of doughnuts and chocolate milkshake mixes came from the heart. "I definitely feel a lot more springy."
So Reese's self-imposed hiatus seems to be ending, and he's planning big things.
Three projects are in the works, he says, with the professional manner that industry insiders marveled at when he was 6. A series of syndicated 90-second radio spots called "Mason and Mom" will offer "basically a bit of advice, lighthearted answers to kids' questions. Mom will have the adult point of view and I'll take the child's point of view." The radio series is also being looked at as a possibility for a half-hour cable television show. "I'm also working on putting together a pilot for a comedy/variety series. It'll be a lot like the old Carol Burnett show, you know, I'll do a monologue, guest stars, songs and stuff."
Reese piled up a heady list of achievements before hitting adolescence, winning advertising's "Clio" award for best performance by a male actor in a television commercial (for the Underwood commercial). He also did weekly features and interviews for New York's WNBC-TV, and terrorized countless TV talk-show hosts, including Mike Douglas, with whom he guest-hosted for a week. "At 7 years old I was coming out with some pretty funny remarks, I must admit. Some of those things I don't think I could come up with now." All of Reese's money is in a trust account, "so right now I'm living off my mother, and I have to ask her for money for a movie."
Modest stuff from someone who wrote his memoirs ("The Memoirs of Mason Reese," natch) at the tender age of 8. "Oh yes, I think my second volume should be out any day now," he says with a laugh, that quick wit still apparent.
Mostly, though, Reese keeps his life "pretty normal. I'm going to school. Professional Children's School here in Manhattan. I'm taking the normal stuff, Russian civilization, which I'm not too big on, to put it mildly, and English lit, which I like very much.
"And I'm starting my own rock 'n' roll band," he adds, excitedly. "Strictly old-time rock 'n' roll, the Shondells, Little Anthony, Elvis, That kind of stuff hasn't died. I'm a drummer. Buddy Rich is my idol. I also loved John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. He was hot. I've been playing a little less than a year. No lessons. I'm not John Bonham yet, I'll give myself till next summer." His mother laughs.