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Television: Stray cat ex-Tucsonan finds home on HGTV

George Gray, host of HGTV's "What's With That House?" gets funky in the foliage at the Funky Jungle House in Laguna Beach, Calif.

George Gray, host of HGTV's "What's With That House?" gets funky in the foliage at the Funky Jungle House in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Here’s what you need to know about George Gray: He adopted a stray cat and helped it class jump, from the mean streets to satin sheets.

While filming 1994′s “Stargate” in Yuma (he plays a technician), an orange kitty camped on his motel doorstep for the duration of the four-month shoot. Stinky, a healthy 17 pounds, now lives in Gray’s three-story home in the Hollywood Hills.

Let’s examine the parallels. Like Stinky, Gray also has stand-out hair (bleached blond). And, like humanlike cat, Gray took a rather roundabout route to Hollywood.

Raised in Tucson on the North Side, Gray, an Amphitheater High School and University of Arizona grad, didn’t grow up with aspirations of stardom. While at UA, he says, he considered going to law school. Father George Gray was Tucson assistant city manager for some 20 years. His mother, Mai Gray, worked as a casting director.

Law school never happened. Instead, Gray has racked up a résumé that ensures Stinky his luxurious surroundings. Notably, Gray hosted “Junkyard Wars,” the daytime “The Weakest Link” and “What’s With That House” (11 p.m. Wednesdays and 10 p.m. Sundays), which premiered on HGTV in March. Gray travels the country looking at those bizarre homes we all want to know the story behind but are afraid to ask the owners.

Calling from home, and talking like he just consumed a case of Red Bull, Gray shared his story. We attempted to keep up.

Tell us about George, the young actor.

(My mom) got into extras casting. It was at a time when I was in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh grade. There was a lot of film work in Tucson. I learned a scam that was awesome. She needed kids all the time for Old Tucson. . . . I figured out, wait a minute, I get to ditch school and I made $35 a day, which was like a king’s ransom. And that was the time of Atari.

What did you study at UA?

I have a (bachelor’s) in personal management. . . . I’m really putting my degree to use.

Were you part of the pitch for “What’s With That House,” or was the idea solidified when you were approached?

They actually came to me and said, ‘We have a show idea. It’s called “What’s With That House,” and it’s every house in America where you drive past and slam on your brakes to look at it.’ . . . To HGTV’s credit, there’s no script, no rules. . . . I never look at any of the production notes. Zero. I pull up to the place, and you never need an address. You know it’s the one laying on its side with a 20-foot cheese grater sticking out of it.

Connect the dots from Tucson to L.A.

It was in high school. I started getting a lot of film work. It was sort of backwards. . . . I had work dropped in my lap. I wasn’t even trying, and then I said, wait a minute, maybe I should study. . . . I did ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ (he played Bobby Hilton) and did a couple of indie films and said, ‘Wait, I kind of like this.’ I was at the UA and I was going to go to law school, then thought, maybe L.A. is worth a shot.

Then you got into stand-up?

I must have been hepped up on goofballs, but I said, ‘Hey, stand-up can’t be that hard.’ . . . And I went down to Laffs on Broadway and did my three minutes. . . . They invited me back, the audience laughed and I had a great little set. Then I got six minutes, then seven minutes, then an opening slot. . . . I found my niche. If somebody threw fake dog poo at me, I was in heaven.

And so stand-up got you to L.A.?

I got into a sketch group and started doing sitcom work. The short version is I got a sitcom deal – it was with guys from SCTV. Well, Polygram got bought by Universal, so I went from the next big greatest to out of work. . . . I started warming up audiences, and I didn’t know this, but warmups often go to being hosts, like David Letterman.

Is your house one of these oddball places, too?

Actually, the production company called me yesterday and said, ‘How would you feel’ – they’re always testing me – and they said, ‘How would you feel doing “What’s With That House” and you knock on your door and interview yourself?’

What’s with your house?

It’s a three-level home in the Hollywood Hills, and one level is a bar. I don’t have kids. It’s just me and Stinky. . . . I have a, gosh, 5-foot-tall by 11-foot-wide photo of the Rat Pack, every bottle known to man behind the bar, two beer taps, an old fireplace, vintage slot machines, vintage pinball machines. . . . It’s a nice, funky place. What I started doing with ‘Weakest Link’ was, at the end of each week, which was Friday for that show, there were so many crew members, so I would say, ‘Everybody, hey let’s meet at Stinky’s.’ (Gray’s bar is dubbed Stinky’s Bar & Cigar Lounge.)

Any filming of the show planned for Tucson?

I told them, I said I would love it if there is a way that people in Tucson could be involved. You can put a note in the article if they know of a bizarre house, to let HGTV know, because I’d love to make a trip. (Go to www.hgtv.com, then click on “Be on TV.”)

You like to visit your old stomping ground?

Tucson is a great, great place for me. I’m a creature of habit. I love going to Sullivan’s – that’s my neighborhood bar. That’s more me than the red carpet stuff.

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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