Sam Straley was walking around the Los Angeles studio for his ABC sitcom, The Kids Are Alright, when he saw a poster for Milk Money, the 1994 Melanie Griffith film shot in Cincinnati.
He smiled and looked heavenward.
"That's my grandpa saying 'Hey!' " Straley says.
Roger Grooms, the grandfather who gave him a love for acting, had a small speaking part in Milk Money, which was filmed in Mount Lookout, Over-the-Rhine and Lebanon. Grooms, who died in 2006 at 69, was a local community theater director; movie/theater critic for the Enquirer, WKRC-TV, WXIX-TV and WSAI-AM; book reviewer for WGUC-FM; and a teacher at Anderson High School, his grandson's alma mater.
"My grandpa would take me to films growing up. That's when I knew that this is what I want to do," Straley says.
The Anderson Township native plays Lawrence Cleary in ABC's new fall sitcom about a blue collar Irish Catholic family with eight boys in the 1970s. Based on strong ratings at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, after The Conners, ABC has ordered a full season of 22 episodes.
It's the first regular series role for Straley, after graduating from DePaul University in Chicago. His grandfather was so important to his career that he mentions Grooms in the first sentence of his ABC biography for the show.
Sam Straley was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his passion for acting and film began very early due to frequent trips to the movie theater with his grandfather, local director and film critic, Roger Grooms. This love and dedication led him to participate in every opportunity he could during his grade school and high school years.
"I wouldn't be here without him," Straley told me at WVXU-FM this week during his first visit home since filming started in August. My interview will air in a few weeks on the Sunday night Around Cincinnati show. When the date is set, I'll add to the post.
His grandfather "is the one who sparked the flame in me," he said. "He had such a big knowledge of films, and he knew all these people. It was exciting to be around him. He always had stories … He changed the way I looked at a lot of things."
When did Straley decide to follow in grandpa's footsteps?
"I was like, 4. Growing up, I was always saying, 'I'm an actor. I'm going to be an actor.' "
Straley plays the oldest of the eight Cleary boys being raised by Peggy Cleary (Mary McCormack, In Plain Sight, The West Wing, Traffic) and Mike Cleary (Michael Cudlitz, The Walking Dead, Southland).
In the Oct. 16 premiere, Straley's long-haired character drops out of the seminary and moves back into the Cleary's cramped three-bedroom house with only one bathroom. It's based on the childhood of series creator and executive producer Tim Doyle (Last Man Standing, The Real O'Neals).
This year has been a whirlwind for Straley, who attended Guardian Angels School and Anderson High School (class of 2013). He auditioned for The Kids Are Alright on video in Chicago; taped the pilot episode in March; moved to Los Angeles in August; and has job security through May. That's like winning the lottery. Most young actors who move to Hollywood don't get a show on their first audition; or get a pilot a network puts on its Fall TV lineup and doesn't get canceled by December.
"I really, honestly, haven't wrapped my head around it," he says.
Kind of like seeing that Milk Money poster at the Calvert Studios in Van Nuys.
"I was walking by one of the nooks and crannies of the studio, and I saw this Milk Money poster, and I said, 'Oh that's a sign!' " he says.
"My grandpa had a few lines in that movie. That was a big moment for me. 'Oh my God Grandpa! That's you! You're in the movie! You can do that! That's amazing!' "
And now his grandson is doing it too.