So what is Mason Reese up to these days? Five feet, to be exact. Naturally, he has long been the brunt of short jokes. "I try to have a good sense of humor about it, but I'm a sensitive and emotional person," he says. "I even cry at commercials."
Mason, 18, has good reason to be saddened by commercials—he is no longer in any of them. Although he has grand plans for returning to television someday as the star of a regular variety show, he slipped into the anonymous life of a full-time student six years ago. No longer in demand as an endearing media cherub, he ballooned to 165 pounds. In 1981 he entered a fat farm in North Carolina for six months to get down to his current weight of 125. Throughout his childhood Mason was unable to participate in most group sports because of fragile bones. Not long after he returned from North Carolina, he was laid up in a body cast for three months after tripping on the street in New York and breaking his femur. "Fortunately my health is very good now," says Mason. "Knock on Formica."
Before the accident, Mason played hooky from school quite frequently, hanging out in music stores in New York City. When he was 13 he was given a Gretsch drum set by Mel Lewis, the legendary jazz drummer and a tenant in the Reeses' apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. By the time Mason graduated from Professional Children's School in 1982, music had become his passion.
Now Mason wants to be a rock star. At the Underground, a New York nightclub where no one seems to have heard the news that disco is dead, he took to the dance floor briefly last Thanksgiving night with a buxom red-haired girl who was a full head taller than he is. "I don't know who she was, but I like redheads," says Mason, who claims he does not have a steady girlfriend. Then, at about 1:30 a.m., the strobe lights stopped pulsing and the real show began as Mason, sporting his trademark Prince Valiant haircut, climbed onto a small bandstand with his new rock group, Dry Ice. Hidden behind an impressive array of drums and cymbals, he led the group through such crowd-pleasers as Billy Idol's Dancing With Myself and Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf. Although the audience was small—about 200—Mason's father was beaming after the show. "The band is making progress," said Bill Reese, 51.
At home with mom Sonia, 49, a few days after the band's raucous but unheralded debut, Mason reflected on the hazards of being a rock musician. "I'm sure I've lost some of my hearing," he said. Mom replied: "You certainly act like you're deaf when I ask you to clean up your room." Sonia is still Mason's ever-present sidekick, although she bristles when asked if she is a stage mother. "You don't tell Mason what to do," she says. "You ask Mason, and if it's fun, he'll do it."
Mason has a comfortable trust fund from his TV earnings, but he wants to stay at home for the time being and save his money. During the next few months he will continue to try out his new rock persona. "You've got to be hungry and ruthless in this business," he says. "Even if there are only 10 people in the audience, I will go out there with the band and kick butt."
A decade ago, Mason Reese was the sideshow prince of prime-time TV. Remember the pudgy preadolescent with carrot-colored hair, Arthur Godfrey jowls and foghorn voice who was a ubiquitous television huckster for Thick 'n' Frosty shakes, Betcha Bacon, Dunkin' Donuts and Underwood sandwich spreads? "Mom, you plus Underwood is like having a borgasmord," Mason spluttered in an ad that earned him a 1973 Clio award as the best actor in a TV commercial. Of course, there are those who would probably like to forget Mason Reese. Dick Cavett, for instance, had the audacity to ask the onetime little darling of the talk show circuit whether or not he was a midget. "Absolutely not," replied Mason to the 5'6" Cavett. "Are you?"