Gerald 'Jerry' Levin, founder of Stadium School who inspired theater and drama students, dies

Gerald “Jerry” Levin, an educator who founded and later served as director of the Stadium School, died July 6 from leukemia at Glichrist Center Towson. The Mount Washington resident was 82.

“Jerry was very important to me,” said Michael Tucker, a film and television actor whose credits include a role in Barry Levinson’s “Diner,” and who was mentored by Mr. Levin during his student days at City College.

“Jerry was always just irrepressible Jerry. He was an intellectual, bohemian and an artist. He was everything I wanted to be,” said Mr. Tucker in an interview from his home in Easton, Conn. “Jerry was a man about town, a Beat Generation guy and was part of the folk singing scene. He was kind of dazzling to me.”

”He loved poetry, music, drama and kids, and he brought all of this and emotion to his teaching. People could see that,” said Jay Gillen, a former Stadium School colleague who is now a math teacher at the Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel.

Gerald Levin was born in Baltimore and raised in Forest Park. He was the son of Barry Levin, a pharmacist who owned Fibus Drug Store in Walbrook Junction, and Cecilia Levin, a homemaker.

He attended City College and graduated in 1953 from Forest Park High School. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 1957 he began teaching English at City College. While there he headed the school Literary Society and also participated in its Folk and Jazz Music Club.

Mr. Tucker, who grew up in Gwynn Oak Junction and later Howard Park, studied with Mr. Levin his freshman year at City College.

“School and I did not do too well, and Jerry changed things for me. He taught me Shakespeare and opened an entire world to me. He dumped it in my lap,” he said.

During his senior year at the school, Mr. Tucker turned to his friend and teacher for help.

“City wouldn’t give me a recommendation for college and I wanted to apply to Carnegie Tech, which is now Carnegie Mellon. It was one of the best acting schools in the country,” he said.

“So, I had to go to New York City for an audition and do two monologues — one serious and one that was comedy. Jerry helped me get it together,” he said. “He went to New York with me, took me to the theater, to Greenwich Village and to see an old army buddy of his in Brooklyn. It was one of the best weekends of my life.”

Mr. Tucker credits his teacher with urging him to seek a professional career as an actor.

“He set me on a path, “ said Mr. Tucker who played the character Bagel — based on City College student Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass — in the 1982 “Diner.” He also went on to star in the late 1980s and early ’90s TV drama “L.A. Law,” as attorney Stuart Markowitz.

The two men remained close; Mr. Levin and his wife, artist Effie Gereny, stayed at a home that Mr. Tucker and his wife, actress Jill Eikenberry, own in Sicily.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Levin left City College and moved to Santo Domingo, where he joined the faculty of the Carol Morgan School, and returned to City after the outbreak of the Dominican Civil War in 1965.

Mr. Levin was involved in teachers’ union politics during the 1960s and ’70s. Along with other City College faculty members, he participated in the 1963 March on Washington and in 1967 joined 100,000 Vietnam War protesters who marched on the Pentagon. During the 1967 teachers strike, he was among teachers arrested, according to Mr. Gillen.

“An uncompromising opponent of all bureaucracies, he taught literature, drama and writing to generations of students, without kowtowing to authority,” he said.

In addition to his work at City College, he was director of drama at Camp Twin Hills, a summer camp in New Hope, Pa., where he produced two musicals a year and recruited hundreds of young people from Baltimore to participate.

Mr. Levin resigned from City College in 1972 after the Nixon administration withdrew federal funds that supported a film course and other special programs he had been teaching.

He was unemployed less than a week and got a job with BF&J Studios, a local production company. During the next six years he produced, directed and occasionally wrote commercials and documentary films for “customers who ranged from a local raincoat manufacturer to newspapers, banks and even the governor,” reported The Sun.

One ill-fated commercial that never aired featured Gov. Marvin Mandel, holding his ever-present meerschaum pipe, emerging from the shadows proclaiming that Maryland was going to get tough on criminals. It was made just days before the governor was indicted for political corruption.

In April 1978, he learned Universal Pictures was filming “The Seduction of Joe Tynan” with Alan Alda in Baltimore, and the studio was looking to cast locals as extras as well as scouting out local shooting locations. He established his own company, Makin’ Movies, later telling The Sun, “I knew the film community in Baltimore.”

When Columbia Pictures director Norman Jewison came to Baltimore in 1978 to film “And Justice For All,” with a screenplay by Mr. Levinson and Valerie Curtin and starring Al Pacino, they turned to Mr. Levin for additional casting and location assistance.

Another picture tapping his expertise was “Guarding Tess,” a 1994 comedy-drama filmed in Parkton and starring Shirley MacLaine and Nicholas Cage.

Mr. Levin returned to teaching when he joined the English faculty at Lemmel Middle School in West Baltimore. He remained there until 1994, when he became a co-founder of Stadium School, a charter school on Northern Parkway that served pupils in Waverly and Ednor Gardens near the old Memorial Stadium. It later relocated to Gorsuch Avenue.

“I was the first teacher-director, then we rotated the job and Jerry had it for three years,” said Mr. Gillen, a resident of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside neighborhood.

“He loved the the children’s writings and especially loved reading their poems out loud. He loved singing songs,” Mr. Gillen said. “He had enthusiasm and joy for all children. He was always filling a bus and taking them to see plays at Center Stage.”

He was awarded a teaching certificate in 1999 and taught in Kawasaki, Japan, as a representative of Baltimore public schools. He retired in 2000.

Mr. Gillen said Mr. Levin loved organizing musical evenings and singing “hundreds of songs he knew by heart to the accompaniment of his ukulele.” His favorites were Irish folk songs.

The longtime Mattfeldt Avenue resident was a member of a weekly poker group composed of friends that had met for years.

“He bet on horses at racetracks from Baltimore to Japan for love of the sport, and could connect with anyone’s passion through his conversational grace and wit,” Mr. Gillen wrote in a biographical profile of his friend.

In addition to his intellectual and artistic interests, he had “remarkable humanity, generosity, kindness and sweetness” said friend Pat Halle of Waverly.

Plans for a celebration of life gathering are incomplete.

In addition to his wife of 27 years, he is survived by sons Sean Levin of Santa Fe, N.M. and Ted Levin of Philadelphia; a stepson, Casey Vaughan of Santa Cruz, Calif., a stepdaughter, Christine Ernest of Baltimore; a brother, Norman Levin of Pikesville; and a grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
52°