Scout's Honor

updated 09/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

IT WAS ED STRANG DERBY DAY IN Derby, Conn., so there was actor Brian Dennehy, 56, lustily joining in a chorus of "Be a Good Scout."

You're right. Perhaps an explanation is necessary.

Over the years, Dennehy, who spent some of his formative years in Derby, had been asked if he would return for a day in his honor. The costar of Gorky Park and Cocoon made a counteroffer: He'd come if they honored Ed Strang, who had been scoutmaster of Dennehy's Cub Scout Pack 3 in 1948 and now, at 84, is believed to be the oldest active scoutmaster in the U.S.

When they were reunited at 1 p.m. on Sept. 10, Dennehy and Strang hadn't seen each other in 46 years. But they had their memories. "He was a cute kid," said Strang, who lives in Derby with his wife of 50 years, Caroline.

"Ed was about steadiness and consistency," said Dennehy. "The doors were open and the lights were on every single week. He was just there."

Dennehy joined the Scouts after his father, Edward, an editor for the Associated Press, went to London, and his mother, Hannah, a nurse, temporarily moved Brian and his two brothers from Manhattan to be near relatives. Strang chose him to perform a solo in the pack's annual musical. "He could sing pretty good," says Ed.

As it turns out, Dennehy—who lives in Santa Fe with his second wife, Jennifer, and their 1-year-old son Cormac—didn't get serious about show business until he had served two tours as a Marine in Vietnam. But if Strang didn't launch Dennehy's career, he did mold his character. "To me, acting is a job, at times good and bad," Dennehy said as he listened to Boy Scout John Coppola, 12, belt out "Be a Good Scout." "But it's people like Ed Strang that make a difference in the world."

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