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Learning never stops

When World War II broke out in 1939, a 16-year-old Montreal boy dropped out of high school and lied about his age to join the Allies.

He returned 5½ years later and hadn’t gone back to school to further his education until now — at 89.

“I just looked around, and I said, ‘Hey, I never finished high school.’ ”

Michael Zone attends Desert Rose Adult High School, 444 W. Brooks Ave., a haven for non-traditional students. He’s about a year into his studies.

Math gives him the most trouble, but he has reading and writing down pat.

Zone joined his younger sister in Southern California after he returned from the war and got a job as a reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, a Hearst newspaper.

He became a naturalized American citizen in 1951 during the same proceeding as Angela Lansbury.

Zone’s last name up to that point was Zon. The judge, as was common in those days, suggested he make it easier to pronounce and add an “e” on the end.

To this day, he’s the only Zone in his family.

He got to know quite a few celebrities during his time as a reporter.

He met Bob Hope’s brother, Jack Hope, while reporting a story at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, which led to a job as one of Bob Hope’s comedy writers.

He also wrote jokes for Victor Borge and Red Skelton.

Zone wrote for Skelton for years, he said, but never met him.

“He didn’t want to see a writer,” Zone said. “He didn’t want to know a writer.

“Skelton was in one room, and we were in another. We worked all night putting stuff under the door. He’d scribble down ‘no good’ and send it back.”

When they finished working, sometimes at 3 a.m. , the writers weren’t allowed to leave the building before Skelton because of the chance they might cross paths on the way out.

“You couldn’t work for a guy like that. But that’s just one of the idiosyncrasies that happens in Hollywood.”

Zone said the lifestyle cost him his marriage because he was never home. He worked all day at the newspaper and all night at different studios and offices writing jokes for the entertainers’ weekly shows.

“I quit that,” he said. “I just couldn’t take it.

“The money was great, but I just couldn’t see myself with that life.”

Zone moved to Las Vegas about 30 years ago with his second wife, to whom he is still married.

Before moving to Nevada, Zone already had an unfortunate experience in gambling.

Zone’s editor assigned him to the south part of L.A., “where all the bookies and whorehouses were,” and he got to know the underground horse-betting ring.

A bookie gave him a job running numbers because he was already making trips around the area for the newspaper.

But like many of the gamblers he ran numbers for, he lost everything on those horses.

A man once asked Zone which horse he liked in an upcoming race. Zone picked a 20-1 long shot named Northridge, just because he lived in the Northridge part of the valley.

The guy called his friends and told them to bet Northridge as if he had a hot tip.

Zone ended up collecting about $50 worth of bets on Northridge.

As usual, he came back to the newspaper to call his bookie and lay off his bets.

Except on this particular day, he couldn’t reach him. The police had arrested him earlier that day, so Zone couldn’t lay off those bets.

“I’m sitting there with all this money, and I’m the one who told them to bet Northridge,” Zone said.

“He won. That sucker won, and he ruined me financially.

“I had to borrow money from the bank — borrow money from my family because these guys were going to kill me. That was my first time ever being a bookie, and it didn’t last long.”

Zone said he’s “semiretired” now.

The Las Vegas Country Club resident is a student by morning and real estate agent by afternoon.

Like every high school student in the state, he must pass the Nevada High School Proficiency Exams before he can get his diploma.

Desert Rose principal Sandra Ransel said Zone is one of many seniors at the school.

“Education is a lifelong activity,” Ransel said. “Not everybody starts or finishes at the same place. The purpose of Desert Rose is to be a second chance for people.”

On a bookshelf behind Ransel’s desk is a photo of the school’s current oldest graduate — her father. He graduated from Desert Rose at 86 in 2005.

If all goes as planned, Zone will pass the proficiency in May and get his diploma in June, at which point he’ll become the school’s oldest graduate.

“At least I can tell my grandson, ‘Y our grandpa is a high school grad.’ ”

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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