In Memory: George Underwood, One of Our Last Real Boy Scouts

Scoutmaster George Underwood embraced the Scout slogan of “do a good turn daily,” with members of his Hollywood Troop 31 volunteering to scrub clean the stars on Hollywood Boulevard and help maintain other public places. (Boy’s Life, March 1984)

Brendan began, as many boys did back then, as a Cub Scout and diligently worked his way through the ranks to the Order of the Arrow, but never finishing the  requirements needed to become an Eagle Scout.

Life interfered. But, no matter, for his experiences with Scouting were many, varied and a large part of his growing up in a confusing world. Much of that was due to two principal influences. One was George Underwood, his Scoutmaster. George was cut from cloth no longer found. During his working life he was employed by a bank. During World War II he was a side gunner in a USAF bomber in the Mediterranean area. As was true of so many of our astronauts, George had a life-long connection with Scouting. The Scout Law guided many a boy into adulthood. 

George was a no nonsense guy who easily enjoyed a joke, and  he betrayed his sharp mind on many occasions in wide-ranging conversations. His Scout garb was old-fashioned: shorts, knee socks and a campaign hat. His wife, Beverly, was a wonderful support for his Scouting activities. He loved camping, and his troop saw much of Southern California’s wild spots. We parents easily supported his activities by providing transportation, funds and goods for goods for his adventures. All this came to an abrupt end when one camp-out was suspended because someone had shot up the campground. We simply bailed out and George decided it was too dangerous to continue the outings.

Once a year the troop offered a pancake breakfast at a Methodist church in Hollywood. I remember it well, for I was often the guy who operated the industrial batter mixer. The boys served and waited on tables.  Most of those attending were older folks and members of the church. That came to an end when the pastor decided that he could make money by renting out his halls to a movie production outfit and, later, to becoming a refuge for the homeless and especially gays with HIV. No longer having a home, the troop disbanded. I may have forgotten some of the details, but that’s pretty much it — with one exception.

That was our commissioner — the rather unlikely persona of Hershel Gilbert, a celebrated Hollywood, Broadway and TV  musical composer and arranger.  He once told me that he had “always been a Boy Scout.” He also sported shorts and knee socks and was ever the gentleman and guide through any of the paperwork associated with the Scouting trade.  Coffee and conversation at his canyon house, served by Trudy, his wife, was always from an immensely heavy  silver service, part of “her dowry,” he said. Both Gilberts were soothingly cordial, sweet and interested in others’ lives, which must be why he had such a long career as the commish. Herschel died in 2003.  On a sunny Sunday that year we held a well-attended memorial service for him at Laurel Park (I believe) in West Hollywood. Still standing on Robertson Boulevard is the brown log building which once served as the original Westside Boy Scout meeting place.

I’m scribbling this because I had heard just the other day that George had passed away on July 4th, a fitting day for which to recall this real man who understood that boys need a variety of guidance as they grow and, before BSA began tripping over religious strictures and before the unfortunate public stance on gays in Scouting. He brought the best ideals of scouting to many boys. George lived one block outside West Hollywood on the East side, but his influence was felt by many Wehoans and their sons.

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Ruth Williams
Ruth Williams

Huge thanks to Carl for his wonderfully heartfelt words. My son Richard was in George Underwood’s troop along with the other kids that grew up here. Mr. Underwood was someone that the kids and their families respected tremendously, he approached each kid as if it were his own son. He kept them off the streets, taught them about leadership, respect and equality! Along with Joyce and Dean Renly and Bill Senigram who were also leaders with the Cub scouts our boys learned so much that helped them become the men they are today. The fun-filled pancake breakfasts, and so much… Read more »