Lary Lewman, an actor who delighted baby boomers as television's Pete the Pirate and later became the recorded voice of national Democratic presidential campaign advertisements, died of complications for Parkinson's disease Thursday at his Clarksville home. He was 76.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Lewman captured the Baltimore TV market from 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on WBAL-TV with his characterization of a friendly buccaneer.
Born in Clinton, Ind., he was the son of Parke and Madonna Cook Lewman. A 1954 Hillsboro High School graduate, he earned a bachelor's degree in English and drama from Indiana State University.
Mr. Lewman initially came to Baltimore to audition as an announcer in 1958 at WBAL-TV. He got the job but turned it down because he felt intimidated by the city, which he thought was too big, unlike Terra Haute, Ind., where he was living.
"They called him back and said they had a show involving a husband and wife," said his wife, the former Nancy Posey. "They auditioned me on the streets of Terra Haute."
The couple moved to Baltimore and appeared on a morning show from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Called "What's New with the Lewmans," it followed "The Today Show," hosted by Dave Garroway and Florence Henderson. The Lewmans interviewed authors, fashion designers and theater performers.
"It was based loosely on a George Burns and Gracie Allen-style thing," his wife said.
The morning show lasted a year and was cut. Station executives wanted Mr. Lewman to create a children's character, so he came up with Pete the Pirate. His ship was the Fairwind and his parrot was Neptune. Mr. Lewman wore a false beard and hat with a skull and crossbones. The show made its debut in 1960 and lasted about five years.
"It was kind of magical for him," his wife said. "He loved writing the scripts. Kids would come to our door and ask if Pete the Pirate could come out and play."
He and his wife performed at the Bolton Hill Dinner Theater, Limestone and the Corner Theater, which Mr. Lewman managed during its time on North Howard Street.
"He was totally absorbed in his acting," said Doug Roberts, a Baltimore resident who directed him and acted with him at Bolton Hill. "He taught us all how to react, to listen to the other actors. He was a wonderful actor and had the soul of a poet."
Mr. Lewman eventually left WBAL but remained active in television. He became the host of Maryland Public Television's "Consumer Survival Kit."
"Lary was a gentle, wonderful soul and a Renaissance man," said a friend, J. Stanley Heuisler, a Roland Park resident and former Baltimore magazine editor. "He was consummately gifted and was an effortless, one-take guy on his voice-overs. He had an unmistakable voice. He could be East Coast spiky or flat and Midwestern. He also understood everything about performance."
Mr. Lewman modified his career about 40 years ago and went on to voice TV programs, industrial films and commercials.
"By 1980, he became what voters heard on radio and television — but never saw — in Jimmy Carter's re-election campaign," said a 2007 article in The Baltimore Sun. "He did thousands of radio and television spots, including the Bill Clinton campaigns. His income soared. He made $500,000 a year in election years — half that in off years. People loved his smooth baritone."
"Beginning with the Carter campaign in 1976, my father became a pioneer of political advertising, and during the course of his career became known as the voice of the Democratic Party," said his son, Lance Lewman of Ellicott City.
Mr. Lewman also loved poetry and appeared at Hopkins Plaza in the 1980s.
"And through his burning love of language, Lary also created Poetryman, a traveling troubadour who graced Hopkins Plaza every weekday at lunch hour and delighted his live audiences with well-known poems that he would recite from memory," his son said.
During the 1980s, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer proclaimed that Lary Lewman was officially "Poetryman of Baltimore."
Asked why he appeared as Poetryman, Mr. Lewman said, "Having found no market for the truth, I have decided to sell sincerity, and give the truth away."
Mr. Lewman retired in 2000. He received the Washington Mid-Atlantic AFTRA and Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.
In retirement, Mr. Lewman was an organic gardener and raised tomatoes, corn, cabbage, beans, peas and asparagus. He also did home-improvement projects.
He was active in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia.
Plans for a life celebration to be held in September are incomplete.
In addition to his wife of 55 years and son, survivors include a daughter, Lori Lewman of Clarksville; a brother, Mikel Lewman of Montezuma, Ind.; and three grandchildren.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun