10-30-01, 4:00 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Dick LeBeau, who led the 1965 Detroit Lions with seven interceptions, just couldn't get the ball away from Herman Munster.
LeBeau's brush with the Halloween side of Hollywood came in January of 1966 as a member of the NFL's Western Conference Pro Bowl team that played the East in the Los Angeles Coliseum. On a tour of Universal Studios the week before the game, LeBeau found himself not exactly face-to-face with Fred Gwynne on the set of the TV show "The Munsters." Gwynne played the lumbering, eight-foot Herman, father of the ghoulish Munster clan, on the series that haunted CBS from 1964-66.
"Herman was about three feet taller than me," LeBeau recalled on Halloween eve Tuesday. "Then I looked down and two feet were in his boots. We saw how they worked it all and it's like everything else. You wish you hadn't, because it's easier to drift into make believe when you're watching it on the screen."
So LeBeau posed for a picture with Herman holding a football, which turned into a historic photo in the LeBeau home. His son, Rick, was 5 at the time. Too young to understand the NFL, but just at the right age that he never missed his favorite TV show. At 41, Rick hangs the picture in
his own home today, still his favorite piece of memorabilia from his father's playing days.
"I didn't carry much weight around the house even though I was a cornerback for the Detroit Lions who led the team in interceptions," Dick LeBeau said. "But when I came home with a picture of Herman Munster and I, I became an instant celebrity."
LeBeau had a friend who ran a Los Angeles restaurant and it turned into a door to meet the stars. LeBeau calls it "celeb watching."
Once, he was at a Hollywood party and stumbled upon the great old movie queen Myrna Loy sitting by herself in a room away from the party. They spent the next few hours talking about Hollywood's old days. LeBeau once floored the wild-looking Dennis Hopper in the early '60s when no one in the room but LeBeau recognized him from his movies in the '50s. He met Kirk Douglas, the star of "Spartacus," and other blockbuster films long before he was the father of Michael Douglas. He met Bill Cosby. Jack Webb of "Dragnet," fame interrogated him in his office. On the set of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," he met Mary Tyler Moore.
"That was big for a little boy from London, Ohio," LeBeau said.
LeBeau, a movie buff who can reel off paragraphs of direct dialogue, has a favorite meeting.
"Sheldon Leonard," LeBeau said. "He was the bartender in 'It's a Wonderful Life.' He always played the tough crooks in the movies." Then LeBeau crinkled up his face and roughed up his voice like a Leonard character:
"I said to Sheldon Leonard, 'Yeeea, you see?'"
But the biggest hit turned out to be meeting Herman.
"Fred Gwynne was probably 6-3," LeBeau said, "but the boots lifted him up and made him walk with that clomp-clomp-comp."