Holly J. Lanahan, a Ruxton businesswoman who scouted locations for film companies, dies

Holly J. Lanahan, a businesswoman whose Locations Etc. Ltd. company assisted movie and advertising agencies filming in the Baltimore area, died April 15 from a glioblastoma at her Ruxton home. She was 75.

“Holly was always the life of the party,” said Bambi L. Mauro, her sister-in-law, who lives in Washington. “She just had an incredible spirit about her. She liked reaching out to people — especially people who had just moved to Baltimore.

“She’d always be the first person at the microphone and the first person dancing,” she said. “She really enjoyed life.”

Holly Talbot Johnson was born and raised in Oak Brook, Ill. She was the daughter of Lawrence Edward Johnson Jr., a businessman, and Alma Knight Black, a homemaker. She was the stepdaughter of David Black, whom her mother married after her father’s death. He was the owner of Greystone Construction Co.

She was a 1960 graduate of Hinsdale High School in Hinsdale, Ill., and obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1964 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“We grew up together. I was a year old and she was six months, and we’ve been friends ever since,” said Marcia M. Smith of Weatherford, Texas. “She was the middle of three sisters and was quite the tomboy. Growing up, we played cowboy and Indians all of the time. She spent lots of time at my house because we had horses and poodles.

“We did a lot of things together — some things we shouldn’t have done,” she added with a laugh.

At a young age, she was proficient in pool, ping pong, darts and hunting, which she enjoyed doing with her father.

“She excelled at whatever she did,” Ms. Smith recalled. “She always had a case of the ‘busys.’ We’d be watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ and Holly always had to be doing something.”

After college she and her sister, now Suzy Johnson Allan, planned to spend six months in Europe but ended up staying two years in Kitzbuehel, Austria, skiing.

In 1966, she moved to Atlanta, where her mother had settled, and took a job with Delta Air Lines working as a reservation clerk. Friends said that while living in Atlanta she picked up a charming Southern lilt in her voice that remained with her for the rest of her life.

She took a job with Gearon & Associates, developers. Across the hall was the Atlanta office of the Rouse Co., whose staff included William Wallace “Wally” Lanahan III, from Baltimore. Family members said Mr. Lanahan was nicknamed “Deal-a-Day Lanahan.”

“Wally couldn’t help but notice this woman in miniskirts and leather boots who drove a 1965 British racing green Corvette Stingray,” wrote her daughter, Ashley Talbot Lanahan, of Encinitas, Calf., in a eulogy for her mother. “At that very same time, Holly had taken notice of Wally as well.”

A bit of intrigue arose when she asked Mr. Lanahan’s secretary if he was married, and she replied that he was. When he later asked her out for a date, her daughter said, she wanted to know why he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring. The question left her future husband somewhat confused and stunned — since he wasn’t married.

“Apparently, Wally’s secretary was hoping to save him for her daughter,” Ms. Lanahan wrote.

Within six months the couple married. The next year they moved to Baltimore and later established a home on Ruxton Road.

In the 1980s, Mrs. Lanahan and business partner Lynn Ellwood established Locations Etc. Ltd., which specialized in finding appropriate sites for makers of commercials and movies.

The partners were striving to offer locations of architectural and historic interest as well as rooms with big windows, high ceilings, and architectural details such as moldings, striking wood floors, fireplaces, arched doorways and shelves, anything that would be visually attractive to moviemakers and advertising agencies.

A 1991 article in The Baltimore Sun reported that Mrs. Lanahan had 220 homes cross-referenced in binders that she showed to directors, and made sure she was on site during filming to ensure nothing went wrong.

“She worked on all of Johns Waters’ films, and her kids were even extras in ‘Hairspray,’ ‘Homicide,’ ‘Her Alibi,’ ‘Avalon, ‘Guarding Tess’ and ‘Major League,’ ” her daughter said.

One of the more memorable commercials she helped arrange featured legendary Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards basketball star Michael Jordan.

“It was a public service commercial about drinking and drugs and it was filmed at an outdoor basketball court,” her daughter said. “She used students from St. Paul’s and McDonogh who were playing a pickup game — but did not tell them about Michael Jordan, who suddenly arrives and steps out of a car. Were they surprised.”

In 1995, she closed Locations Etc. Ltd. and went to work for Nikken Products, a Japanese company that sells magnetic therapeutic products geared toward engendering wellness and better balance, circulation, flexibility and eliminating soreness.

“Within two years, she was named one of the top 100 distributors in the U.S.,” her daughter said.

“Holly was an entrepreneur,” Ms. Mauro said. “She was very successful and never idle.”

“Holly excelled at whatever she did,” Ms. Smith said.

She retired in 2001.

She never lost her affinity for horses. She exercised polo ponies and, after moving to Ruxton, owned a quarter horse named Cinnamon. She enjoyed steeplechase and timber races.

“She was a tremendous athlete,” Ms. Mauro said.

She also enjoyed watching her father-in-law, William Wallace Lanahan Jr., who owned several competitive horses through the years, race his horses.

Ms. Lanahan was also a competitive bridge player and golfer and could be seen several times a week engaging in both at the Elkridge Club, where she was a member. During her golfing days, Ms. Lanahan scored four holes-in-one.

Her musical tastes varied and she had two favorite singers, Michael Jackson and Etta James. It wasn’t uncommon for her to wear punk rock wigs.

“She always had a good time and made sure everyone else did as well,” Ms. Smith said.

“You have given us all huge lessons on a positive outlook,” wrote a longtime friend, Stuart Rogers, in a letter to Ms. Lanahan. “You have a way off treating the doorman like he is the governor and the governor like he’s your next door neighbor.”

Funeral services were held Saturday at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.

In addition to her husband of 46 years, her daughter and her sister, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, Mrs. Lanahan is survived by a son, Wallace William Lanahan IV of Greenwich, Conn.; three stepbrothers, Fred Black and Steve Clay, both of Atlanta, and David Black, of Destin, Fla.; and two grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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