He's the son of a shoe cobbler who ended up in show business in Hollywood, but his big TV show was bumped off the air after three months by none other than "Wallace and Ladmo."
If that doesn't make you want to read J.M. "Jay" Kemp's newly published autobiography, maybe the chapter called "Cannibalism" will. And what better way to pick up a copy of "My Hopscotch Life" than by meeting the author in person at one of several book-signing events scheduled for later this month at Mad Dawg's & Mel's restaurant on Main Street.
Kemp, who moved to Payson with his late wife, Carol, after they retired 20-some years ago from television careers in the Valley, calls his tome "An Unauthorized Autobiography" by an "Internationally Unknown Author," typical of the sense of humor sprinkled throughout the book and, in fact, throughout Kemp's long and extremely varied life.
Consider the story of his short-lived TV show, a children's science fiction program called "Mr. 5" that aired on KPHO-TV in the Valley. Kemp wore a spacesuit he and his wife designed that looked very much like what people thought spacesuits would look like back in the 1940s.
"‘Mr. 5' needed a host and I had worked at ABC on science fiction things and acted in some of them, so when I came to Phoenix in 1949 they wanted me to do this program," Kemp said.
"I was like in orbit around the earth and that's the reason I had the mask. I'd do little science tricks and demonstrations, and I showed old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon programs.
"The show lasted almost three months, and then ‘Wallace and Ladmo' came along." After bumping Kemp and "Mr. 5," "Wallace and Ladmo" went on to become the longest-running children's show in the history of television -- enduring for 35 years.
The chapter in Kemp's autobiography titled "Cannibalism" recounts an event that occurred during World War II when he was stationed on Guam in the Mariana Islands. Kemp was a parachute rigger in a navy fighter squadron during the war.
"A lot of Japanese soldiers were hiding out in the jungle," Kemp said. "There was this little farm on the edge of the jungle where this farmer and his wife lived.
"One day, a soldier came out of the forest and killed the wife and dragged her body off. He took a chunk of her and put it on a spit and cooked it. They knew this because they found her body with the chunk missing."
For some reason, the soldier returned to the scene of the crime a few days later.
"The farmer heard him outside messing with the door lock and grabbed his machete," Kemp said. "He finally got the door jimmied open and came through it with a pistol. As he did, the farmer cut his arm off with the machete, and then when he fell down he cut his head off."
Kemp also fancies himself an inventor, and his autobiography includes a photo of one of the strangest contraptions you'll ever see.
"It's an air-cushioned vehicle I designed and built," he explained. "It rides on a cushion of air."
Powered by two go-cart engines with a 30-inch propeller and "three rudders that turned together," the craft was eventually donated to Arizona State University for research purposes.
Kemp has also raised shrimp, designed and made fishing lures, and he's an accomplished painter and sculptor.
"I've always been an artist -- since grade school," he said. "I've shown in many, many galleries around Arizona."
Kemp's autobiography only covers his life through the 1960s. He hopes to write the companion volume.
"There may be a sequel if I can gather my wits together good enough to remember things," he said.
But if he doesn't get around to it, there's more in this first volume than many people experience in an entire lifetime. And besides, Kemp will also have an earlier book for sale at the upcoming book signings.
Kemp describes "Critters from the Third Planet," published in 1995, as "a compilation of thought-provoking, humorous, and thoroughly entertaining short stories and poems."
For a man who has done so much in his life, it's a well-deserved rest -- such as it is. Kemp still works at his art and his writing.
"But the thing I'm pursuing hardest right now is to live as long as I can," he said.
J.M. Kemp will appear at Mad Dawg's and Mel's to sign copies of "My Hopscotch Life" ($21) and "Critters From The Third Planet" ($12) from 5 p.m. through the dinner hour on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 22 and 23, and from 10 a.m. through the lunch hour on Tuesday, Aug. 26.
Books are also available at Western Village in the old Payson Feed Store location on Highway 87 or by calling Kemp at 474-2798.
Name: J.M. Kemp
Birthplace: San Diego, Calif.
Family: Mother and father were both entertainers, four brothers, two sisters, late wife Carol, three daughters, and two grandchildren who are quite the athletes.
Personal motto: I wrote a thing one time: "My greatest contribution to the human race is that I stay the hell out of the way."
Inspiration: There have been many who inspired me. But I also have a fair amount of creativity and I don't really think about it a lot because it just happens. I just take it as it comes.
Greatest feat: My size 13s. Seriously, my first book -- "Critters."
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: reading
Three words that describe me best: They're unprintable.
I don't want to brag but ... I think I do very professional art work, but my writing is yet to prove itself.
Person in history I'd most like to meet: Inventor Nikola Tesla
Luxury defined: More time. My life is not based on luxury.
Dream vacation spot: Payson
Why Payson? I could live anywhere in the world as long as it's just like Payson.