From Harlem Hoodlum to Hollywood Heavyweight - The Hank Garrett Story
From gun-toting kid to gun-toting cop to gun-toting TV cop., when you see Hank Garrett, you probably remember TV shows like Columbo and, of course, Car 54 Where are You or his brutal fight scene with Robert Redford in “Three Days of the Condor,” still considered one of the best fight scene of all time ... and actually sent him to the hospital. In his soon to be released memoir "From Harlem Hoodlum to Hollywood Heavyweight - The Hank Garrett Story," details the unlikely journey from Harlem hoodlum to Hollywood heavy.
Garrett recalls ...
- Worked along side Sophia Loren, James Coburn, Kirk Douglas, Hector Elizondo, Charlie Sheen, James Earl Jones and more.
- Escorting Audrey Hepburn to a gala Hollywood-style event.
- How a life-changing meeting with one of the greatest entertainers then, and of all time: Sammy Davis Jr., who sat the young, rough edged Hank down, and told him he had to make a choice and he threw away his gun and picked up a microphone.
- From Officer Hank Garret, NYPD to Officer Ed Nicholson” of Car 54 Where are You? with Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis.
- Opened for Tony Bennet, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Dinah Washington.
- Becoming the first white comedian to appear at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.
- His most memorable “fight” was when none other than with “The King” himself, Elvis Presley, in a Las Vegas
- Surviving tragedy as well: Bad marriages ending in near financial ruin and the unthinkable pain of losing a child.
- Hank continues to give back, helping troubled youths, as a “Guardian Angel” to at-risk kids, just as Sammy Davis Jr. was to him.
The Hank Garrett story is truly one of redemption; from the poor Harlem kid, to a career that has spanned 6 decades, and has survived and thrived because of the fight inside the man.
Born into abject poverty at a time when poverty was measured in trips to the morgue, Hank Garrett was brought up in a Harlem cold water flat with two half-brothers and a wide array of pets: roaches, mice, rats, and whatever else could sneak into the walk-up tenement apartment furnished with dilapidated furniture and broken dreams. Breakfast was stale bread and water. Other meals were less regular. He had a love-hate relationship with his half-brothers: he loved them, they hated him.
Life on the streets was tough. The only way to survive was to fight; at school, at home, hanging out on the stoop, or walking home from school. One day when clowning with his pals on the way from school, one of his best friends collapsed right next to him. Hank thought he was kidding around. He wasn't. He was shot dead from an unknown sniper on a rooftop. It wasn't the first, or the last time, Hank would see death on those mean streets.
At 9, Hank knew what it was like to get sucker punched and have your nose broken from a total stranger and for no reason. Those were the cruel lessons of life in Harlem. By 12, Hank was carrying heat: a .25 caliber hand-gun he kept loaded, hidden, and nearby at all times. By 13 he was no longer a virgin, pumping iron, and seriously studying Martial Arts. His future seemed dim; reform school, brushes with the law, beaten up by local thugs for protecting a friend, and getting evicted with his family from their meager dwelling. Prison or an unmarked grave in Potter's Field seemed like foregone conclusions.
At 17 he became a professional wrestler, having to lie to get his license because he was underage. He posed as “Hank Daniels, the Minnesota Farm Boy” and competed against the top wrestlers on the national wrestling circuit, including Killer Kowalski and Lenny Montana, who later became an actor, appearing as Luca Brasi in The Godfather. He had a fan club, and even escorted Audrey Hepburn to a gala Hollywood-style event. Hank now had the show biz bug. But the street still had a hold on him.
Hank knew the Harlem bad guys, and sometimes had to be part of their world: or else! But through the kindness and tough love of one Willy Bryant, known as “The Mayor of Harlem”, Hank began to realize that the street life wasn't for him. He had a chance, through his talents, to get away from the dangers of thug life, and become something more: an entertainer!
Willy Bryant believed so much in Hank that he arranged a life-changing meeting with one of the greatest entertainers then, and of all time: Sammy Davis Jr. Sammy sat the young, rough edged Hank down, and told him he had to make a choice: the thug life or show biz. He couldn't do both. Hank threw away his gun and picked up a microphone.
Through some doors Sammy and Willy helped open, Hank began proving himself as a small club standup comic, which eventually led to long engagements on the Catskills Circuit. But show business, whether wrestling or sparring with hecklers in comedy clubs can be tough. And a car accident, which almost killed him, put a damper on his career which had to be put on hold for over 13 months.
With the help of a cousin, he fought his way back to health with vitamins, clean living and exercise. But the jobs didn't return. He needed to make a living. Fast.
Say hello, to Officer Hank Garret, NYPD. Hank never forgot the underprivileged kids in his old neighborhood and wanted to make a difference in their lives. He thought he could do that as a Harlem police officer. Just as Officer Garrett was finding his way as a good guy on the streets of Harlem, an old friend tipped him to an acting job, he just might be perfect for. So Hank headed downtown for an audition with one of television's most successful producers of the time, Nat Hiken, who had just finished creating and producing one of TV's biggest hit series, The Phil Silvers Show aka Bilko.
Hank sat down in front of Nat Hiken, and Nat immediately said, “You're Officer Ed Nicholson!” to which Hank replied, “No, I'm Officer Hank Garrett!” Nat then said, “You're exactly the kind of dummy I need to play Nicholson. You're hired!”
Say goodbye to Officer Hank Garrett of the NYPD, and say hello to “Officer Ed Nicholson” aka Hank Garrett, of Car 54 Where are You? considered by some to be one of the funniest TV sitcoms ever. Hank was all of 19 years old and starring with some of TV's most recognizable stars: Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis who both starred in The Munsters after Car 54, and rumple faced burlesque comedian Joe E. Ross who had also starred in Bilko.
Exposure on national television opened all kinds of new opportunities for Hank. As a standup comic, he opened for Tony Bennet for four years! He also opened and/or toured with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Dinah Washington. And was the first white comedian to appear at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Hank was well on his way. He went on to not only star on TV shows including Columbo and co-starring with James Earl Jones in Paris and many others. Notable film roles were also coming his way. His brutal fight scene with Robert Redford in “Three Days of the Condor” has been voted as the best fight scene of all time. He worked with Sophia Loren, James Coburn, Kirk Douglas, Hector Elizondo, Charlie Sheen and more.
But his most memorable “fight” was when none other than with “The King” himself, Elvis Presley, who summoned Hank to spar with him in a Las Vegas gym in a Martial Arts workout, just for fun.
Hank's career has spanned nearly six decades, as a comedian, actor, voice over artist, and as a Hall of Fame Martial Arts and Wrestling legend with enough trophies, medals, plaques, and awards to sink a mob hit in the East River.