Over the years, many noted actors, such as Mildred Natwick, Edward Everett Horton, Mildred Dunnock, Charley Chase, Francis X. Bushman, Anita Gillette and Josh Charles, have hailed from Baltimore, and their paths to stardom often began by treading the boards right here.

Add another: Bill Mullikin.

Maybe you haven't heard of the comedian, but you will certainly recognize his work, which, in addition to the stage, included TV and movies during his 61-year career.

I learned about Mullikin when my phone rang at work on a marvelously beautiful April morning this year when I was filled with thoughts of going AWOL if the editor wasn't looking.

I was snapped back to reality by the phone. On the other end of the line was a charming woman, Kate Mullikin, a California art teacher who also teaches Shakespeare to students at Shoreline Middle School in Santa Cruz.

She called to tell me about her father, Bill Mullikin, a Baltimore-born and -raised actor whose career began here and took him to Broadway and eventually Hollywood.

She also told me that her father had died a year earlier of Alzheimer's disease at age 82 in Aptos, Calif., where he had lived with her and his son, Matt Mullikin.

The son of a bond salesman and a homemaker, Mullikin grew up in Towson, and when he was 3, entertained drinkers in a bar with a rather spirited rendition of "Clarence Cracked a Peanut Shell."

"His father was always taking him to bars and putting him on the rail, and he'd sing that song," his daughter said.

He learned to play the piano and taught himself to sing and dance. After completing his studies at Robert E. Lee Junior High School for advanced students, he entered Polytechnic Institute.

"He delights to entertain, but only on the stage. At the public schools, Polytechnic Institute and Loyola College he never has been the class clown. That doesn't appeal to him," said a 1949 profile in the old Sunday Sun Magazine.

Artists who influenced Mullikin were Ray Bolger, Al Jolson, Bobby Clark and Eddie Cantor, reported the magazine.

He had worked with the fabled Isabel B. "Dearie" Burger, who established the Children's Theater Association in Baltimore.

"In fact, that's where he met my mother, Regina Catherine Bahlman. They were both appearing in her production of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol,'" his daughter said. The couple married in 1952.

While a student at Poly, Mullikin, who was a member of the Sir Henry Irving Dramatic Club, earned his first notice, a brief one at that, in The Sun for his work in the 1941 edition of the annual Poly Follies.

"W.L. Mullikin was the soloist for a chorus hula dance," reported the newspaper.

After serving in the Navy during the waning days of World War II, Mullikin returned to Baltimore and enrolled at Loyola College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1950.

While in the service and stationed in Bermuda, Mullikin put on a little show and sang "I Gotta Song" from "Bloomer Girl" and "The Firemen's Bride" to his own accompaniment.

Irving Berlin happened to hear the performance and told Mullikin he had never heard the "Bloomer Girl" number done better.

He made his TV debut in 1948 when he appeared in a production of "Counterfeit Lady" that was staged at the Baltimore Museum of Art and broadcast on WMAR-TV.