CARLSBAD – Many people along the coast recognize character actor Leonard Stone when he’s out and about. Leonard’s been seen in more than 150 classic television shows including “Gunsmoke,” “Perry Mason,” “All in the Family,” “Mission: Impossible,” and more. He’s best remembered as Sam Beauregarde, the father of Violet in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” one of 55 movies he’s made during his career.
But fewer people know that Leonard is a children’s author, too.
His book “Keepy the Kangaroo That Never Grew” is enjoying a new audience with the recent release of an eBook for Nook (Amazon) and Kindle (Barnes & Noble). It is the first of a three-part series illustrated by Joel Seibel who’s worked on shows including “The Smurfs,” and “Scooby Doo.”
The story of Keepy is about a tiny kangaroo, teased by his peers, for being raised by a family of mice who love and accept him. The moral of the story is that it’s okay to be different.
“Years ago I had a mouse in a one-room apartment I lived in on 4th St. in New York City,” Leonard said. “He would come out at night and we would chit-chat back and forth until I would say, ‘Now, go back to bed.’”
He continued, “There are a lot of things in my life that I hook into my stories.”
Leonard was born in 1923, and raised by his grandparents, one living in California and the other in Oregon.
“I was 14 in high school when I was in my first play,” he recalled. “I was onstage and stopped, looked around and thought, ‘This feels like home’ – because I didn’t have a home. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”
Leonard was an excellent student and entered college at 16. Later he was recommended by the actor, Sir John Gielgud, for a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He completed the two-year program in one year.
After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Leonard traveled the world, appearing in productions including “Mr. Roberts” in England and “South Pacific” in Australia and New Zealand.
In 1959 he won a Broadway Tony award as “Best Featured Actor in a Musical” for “Redhead” also starring Gwen Verdon and Richard Kiley.
“Of every award I’ve received, the most special is a lifetime achievement award from the Warren Lane School,” he explained.
“These children knew more about my dad than we did,” said his daughter Robin Solomon.
Leonard has volunteered with the Special Olympics in the past and continues to make personal appearances at public schools to talk, answer questions and sometimes even read aloud.
“The children all like to come back to Wonka,” he explained.
Leonard and his wife Carole have four children: Michael, Jan, Robin, Deborah.
Robin is a full-time special needs aide at La Costa Heights Elementary.
“My Dad was magical with stories growing up,” she remembers. “Every night that he was home it was an adventure. He would tell us a story about Ribit (Robin) and Dribit (younger sister Deborah) that was based on what he saw us do during the day.”
Robin’s daughter, Frankie Stone Solomon, is one of Leonard’s 8 grandchildren. Frankie was an intern the last two summers for The Coast News. She is also following in her grandfather’s footsteps by pursuing a career in show business. Recently, she was accepted into The Second City improvisational comedy troupe whose alumni include Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.
“I’m so proud of all of my grandchildren,” Leonard said. “With Frankie, I saw her hit the stage in high school and thought, ‘This girl is good!’”
For young people such as Frankie who are considering an entertainment career, Leonard cautions that it can sometimes get rough. “But if you master the business part of show business, you’ll do well,” he added.
A portion of the profits made through the sale of the electronic version of “Keepy the Kangaroo That Never Grew” goes to UNICEF, St. Jude’s Research Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Children’s Cancer Institute and RADY Children’s Hospital.
“Keepy the Kangaroo That Never Grew” is available at amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.