During the course of a career that stretches across four decades, lawman Larry Allison not only crossed paths with some of Hollywood's most famous celebrities, he made sure that their paths, front and back, were all clear.
The former California cop, today a part-time policeman in Watertown, once provided security for such renowned folks as Nicole Kidman, Michael Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Andy Griffith, Aaron Spelling, Will Smith and Robin Williams.
"It's been a crazy ride. I sit here now and my mind's going two million miles an hour," says the officer, 59, over lunch at Depot Junction in Watertown as he grants his first interview ever about his heydays in Tinseltown where he watched over the stars at awards shows like the Oscars, Grammys and Emmys and provided security on movie sets and sound stages for TV shows including "The Dukes of Hazzard," "Murder, She Wrote," "The King of Queens," "Wheel of Fortune" and "Quantum Leap."
Great memories of Hollywood royalty
Two of his most memorable celebrity encounters come courtesy of superstar Jack Nicholson, whom he first met while providing security at Frank Sinatra's funeral. Later, at a Women in Film event held at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, he shadowed the star of "China Town" and opened the car door for the actor as he prepared to depart the hotel.
"He rolled the car window down, and said, 'Thanks a lot. I felt real secure, chubby.' I just laughed," recalled Allison.
"Then Nicholson said, 'What do those people want over there? Autographs, pictures?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'Well, let's go give it to them.' And he jumped out of the car and ran over to the crowd and started signing autographs and giving pictures."
Born and raised in Tulare, California, a small farming community between Fresno and Bakersfield, Allison became a police cadet at 18 in 1974 and worked part-time until he was 21 and then went to the police academy. After graduation, he worked as a law enforcement officer in Tulare County until 1986 when he left for Palm Springs to become a warrant officer for the county marshal's office where his duties included extraditing fugitives from other states.
During a stake-out in 1986, he pulled over a car only to find himself face to face with Sonny Bono, the late singer-songwriter who had a No. 1 pop hit, "I Got You Babe," in 1965 with then-wife Cher.
"We became great friends, and I did his security for him when he ran for mayor [of Palm Springs] and then I started meeting people that led me to job offers in Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry," Allison said.
"I started working security details on the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes, ESPY awards. They average about 58 awards shows in Los Angeles in a year, and at one point I think I worked 30 of the 58.
Kidman to the 'King of Pop'
"I was tired of the desert and had the opportunity to go to Los Angeles full time in '99. I left law enforcement to work for a company that had several celebrities and began working in Will Smith's house in residence protection, and when Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman split, I was assigned to work for her," he recollected.
When Kidman left for a lengthy film job out of the country, Allison was offered a job by a close friend, Michael La Perruque, Michael Jackson's security chief.
"I jumped on board and traveled with Michael Jackson for about 11 months. It was fun. He was a very interesting person, and I met a lot of interesting people and I enjoyed it," recounted Allison, who shaved his moustache to placate the king of pop.
"He thought I was very intimidating with my moustache and asked me if I would shave it. It was the longest time I was without my moustache."
One of the more amusing incidences during his time with the singer came just hours before the 2002 wedding of his friend, singer Liza Minnelli. Jackson called Allison and asked him to purchase a broach for him to wear to the event.
"We were staying at the Palace Hotel in New York but they didn't have anything. So I ran down Park Avenue in and out of three or four gift shops, and I bought one for $12.50, and he loved it. He said, 'Oh, that's great. I love that. You did so good.'
"It's funny because I'm sure that people who saw that broach were thinking that it was probably a Harry Winston million-dollar piece, and it's $12.50 from a gift shop on Park Avenue," laughed Allison.
After his tenure with Jackson he returned to providing security for Kidman and then for professional soccer icon David Beckham and his wife, Victoria, and there were numerous jobs in-between before he was employed by one of his favorite clients.
Best client he ever worked for?
"I think my dream job was when I worked for Aaron Spelling for about two years. Mr. Spelling was one of the nicest and most interesting people I've ever met and had the privilege of knowing in my life. He was just a very generous man. It was always fun with him because of who I got to meet. He liked having me close to him. He was getting older, getting feeble. He had done and seen so much. He had 88 successful TV series and 140 movies," reminisced Allison.
"I would go to his 57,000-square-foot home every day and wait for him to come out, and then the driver and I would take him to work to his office at Spelling Entertainment. I stayed with him all day and went with him to dinner at night or to business meetings. I was his personal protector. Mr. Spelling was so respectful and never treated you like a worker but like you were an equal."
The association with Spelling led to his meeting many more stars and an occasion, the memorial service for movie producer Ray Stark, which provided the second memorable encounter with Jack Nicholson.
"At the service, Mr. Spelling introduced me to John Forsythe, Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas and their wives, and Nicholson walks up. Somebody got Mr. Spelling's attention, and Nicholson turns to me and goes, 'Who are you?' and I say, 'I'm Larry.'
"'But who are you?'
"I said, 'Well, Larry.'
"Nicholson says, 'Naw, I seen you around for years.'
'"Well, where have you seen me?'
'"You followed me around at that thing at the Century Plaza Hotel. You were out in front for Sharon Stone's 40th birthday party and you're at Sinatra's funeral. You're up there with the box, you're everywhere. You've always got that umbilical cord hanging out of your ear. You CIA? I mean, what are you, man?'
"I said, 'Jack, if I tell you, I got to kill you.' He just laughed," recollected Allison.
The truth about being a 'personal protector'
Turning to the serious side of what he does as a personal protector, Allison says, "I don't really like the term 'bodyguard.' I've been doing this since '86. People get a different opinion, like after 'The Bodyguard' movie with Kevin Costner... If you use the term bodyguard, they look at you like you should be a 6-5, 350-pound muscle man with a shaved head and earrings and throwing people around.
"In all the years of doing this I have never had a fight. With a stalker one time, I did have to just push him away but that's the closest. If you're fighting, you're not doing your job. You take care of the situation before it gets physical."
While working on show business projects on his off days, one of his gigs was helping with security on the Academy of Country Music Awards for about 18 years in Los Angeles where he met a host of country music stars as well as their managers and personal assistants. Those associations inspired him to begin visiting Nashville three or four times a year, and he liked what he saw.
"Country people are a lot more down to earth," he notes. "Hollywood people were OK. I've got no complaints against Hollywood. It was great."
Finally, in 2010, his friend country music singer Mark Wills convinced him to make the move. Thus, he enjoys living in Music City where he does security and traffic control work on video shoots and he has performed those duties on the "Nashville" TV series. He also worked on the set of "Boulevard," the late comedian Robin Williams' last movie, which was filmed in Nashville.
Allison confesses to dabbling in show biz as he rents badges, gun belts and theatrical guns and his police motorcycle for film, TV and video shoots. He also served as a technical advisor and portrayed a uniformed police officer on Investigation Discovery's "Steve McNair Story."
Watertown rings a bell
The officer came across Watertown two years ago while he was working on the set of the movie "The Identical," which was based on the story by Lebanon's Wade Cummins.
"We were filming some drive-in scenes just down the road here, and when I drove out, I detoured and went through the town square and thought, 'What a great little town,' and I immediately recognized the town square from the Garth Brooks' Dr Pepper commercial and also the Tim McGraw video, and I said, 'This is it.'
"I came out a couple of times, had dinner and walked around the town square. Eventually a couple of my friends that I had worked with came to work here part-time. One day they told me, 'Hey, we've got an opening for a part-time officer. Interested?' So I came out, filled out the application, talked to Chief Joe Hall and started the process and was hired. That was four or five months ago. Chief Hall is a great guy to work for.
"It's a neat little town. I love this little town. Whenever they call me, I jump at coming out and working. I love to come out, drive around, walk around the square, going around talking to people. It's a well-kept secret. I can see myself living here," says the man, who jokingly refers to himself as "Watertown's Barney Fife."
But don't be fooled. The veteran cop knows his business and has enjoyed a well-rounded career in law enforcement and has patrolled in cars, on motorcycle and horseback, doing practically everything but work with a canine.
Looking back on his calling, he sums up the journey saying, "It was incredible. I worked with a lot of good people. I saw some stuff that no one should see. I felt good about things I did for people. It went by way too fast. I can't believe where I am at in my life right now at my age. I think, 'where did it go?'
"Every once in a while I get a call from an old co-worker that thinks I'm crazy to be back in law enforcement. It has been very fulfilling," says the lawman, who, like thousands of other dutiful police officers, has put his life on the line day in and day out while striving to serve and protect citizens from all walks of life.