"What are you going to do with that collection of Playbills?" we ask Lou Cedrone, who's busily stacking and arranging them, just so. "They're going to the Enoch Pratt Free Library," he says with pride, satisfied that his years of carefully filing and protecting these programs wasn't for naught.
This was just a few days before he wrote his final column as film and theater critic for The Evening Sun, a tenure that began at a quarter to Jayne Mansfield and ends at half past Madonna. After 40 years at the newspaper, 28 of them as its critic, Lou Cedrone bids adieu to Calvert and Centre streets, the crossroads where he wrote thousands of movie, stage and television reviews for Baltimore's afternoon newspaper.
On this sunny Friday morning, with eastern light illuminating his office space, we ask if he would mind having the tables turned on him. Would he consent to an interview? With characteristic grace, he agrees.
SUN MAGAZINE: Have you ever stopped to calculate how many films you've seen?
CEDRONE: It averages out to be 250 a year, since October of 1963.
SM: That means a substantial portion of your adult life has been spent in the dark.
CEDRONE: Yah, but I behaved myself.
SM: If memory serves, you do not eat in theaters.
CEDRONE: I really don't associate eating with watching movies. I go back to the time when the most you had at a movie theater was a candy machine. No popcorn. Drinks weren't allowed. Then, it all broke down. They all started putting in popcorn machines.
SM: Do you feel there has been a decline in the behavior of moviegoers?
CEDRONE: Absolutely. Back in the time that nearly every seat was filled, people were much more polite and there was very little talking. And there was no gum chewing.
SM: What was the most outrageous act you ever witnessed in a movie theater?
CEDRONE: I did see one couple making love in one of the theaters at Harbor Park.
SM: Was there a love story on the screen, too?
CEDRONE: Horror film. At least the couple was in the back. That was considerate of them.
SM: Any other strange and unusual sights?
CEDRONE: For a time, there was a lot of pot smoking at certain theaters. You could walk in to some of them and get yourself a secondary jag. Not an immediate high, but a post-immediate high.
SM: What would you say is your favorite film genre?
CEDRONE: I like most of them, except horror films and the supernatural. I think supernatural films are intellectually insulting, and horror films are sociologically damaging. I love musicals and light comedy. And action films. Bruce Willis' "Die Hard" films, and even some Schwarzenegger.
SM: Do you recall your first official review as Evening Sun film critic?
CEDRONE: "The Silence," an Ingmar Bergman film which I did not like. I never appreciated Bergman.
SM: Do people approach you at intermission of a play to share their opinion or ask yours?
CEDRONE: Frequently. They'll ask how I like it, and I'll always turn it around and ask how they like it. If they say, "I think it's great," and I agree with them, I'll say so. But if I disagree, I keep my mouth shut.
SM: We've noticed that you scoot right out of your aisle seat for the exit at the end of a performance. Is that to avoid those questions?
CEDRONE: Not at all. That's simply to get to the office in time to write the review.
SM: How much abuse do you take from people who don't agree with you?
CEDRONE: You do get letters. Readers became enraged because my opinion differed from theirs. I've never understood it.
L SM: How often would you get abuse from an actor or director?
CEDRONE: Not often. Most people I've interviewed have been pretty damned nice. Movie actors you never hear from. Stage actors frequently will let you know if they're happy or unhappy with something you've written. Sometimes, you receive thank you notes. Mitzi Gaynor sends Christmas cards. Bob Hope, too.
SM: How many times did you interview Hope?
CEDRONE: Six or seven, I guess. Once, when I was in California as a television writer, we were invited out to his house. There's a golf course in the back yard, and he had a driving competition among the writers. I won, and I had never had a golf club in my hands before. Or since. I have the trophy at home.
SM: Readers will recall that in addition to being film and theater critic, you were TV critic for The Evening Sun, as well.
CEDRONE: From 1963 till 1978, I did all three. I just felt we should have someone doing television. At the time, it was not a staff that was particularly attuned to entertainment. There were many strongly religious people on the desk, and they didn't approve of people like, say, Jayne Mansfield. She came here once on a publicity tour, on a train that stopped at Pennsylvania Station. Reporters were to go there for interviews. But the city editor at the time refused to allow anyone to go. He thought of her as the Antichrist.
SM: Wasn't there a time when the stars would come right to the paper to be interviewed?
CEDRONE: Television stars in the early days. They brought Lassie in here! Nowadays, they bring the stars to Washington and I hop a train down there. It's only $5 on the MARC train, since I'm over 65.
SM: Can you name an interview subject who was not at all like his or her screen persona?
CEDRONE: I met Angie Dickinson many years ago, when she was new. She was in a movie with Gregory Peck, "Captain Newman, M.D." Everybody was going after the Grace Kelly thing then, so she played an ice princess. Very cold. All of her lines were very measured, and there wasn't an ounce of enthusiasm.
But I met her later at the Belvedere, around the time that she was rumored to be running around with JFK, and here was this animated, expressive woman. I said, "Angie, I can't get over this. On screen you're an ice princess, but you are a totally different person."
I met her again later when she was doing "Police Woman" on television and I didn't say who I was, because I never assume they remember you. And she looked at me and said, "I thought it was you. You were the one who made me realize I was playing Grace Kelly instead of myself. You set me straight."
I said, "Do I get 10 percent?"
SM: Who would you have liked to have interviewed?
CEDRONE: Garbo, for one, and someone of the other older ones like Barbara Stanwyck. I met Joan Crawford, though.
SM: Didn't she say you were the best-looking film critic in America?
CEDRONE: No, no, but she was very complimentary. She was coming on to me. This was 20 years ago, so she had to be 60 something. [Local critic] Don Walls said, "You should have gone to bed with her and pretended that she looked like she did in
'Sadie McKee.' "
SM: Did you interview Elvis?
CEDRONE: Yes, with a group. I had my picture taken with him, but they never sent it to me. That would be a prize.
SM: Who else did you have your picture taken with?
CEDRONE: Audrey Hepburn. Sophia Loren. Eve Arden. Gregory Peck. Virna Lisi. I've got them at home nearly covering a wall in my den. Got one with Paul Newman. I treasure that.
SM: So, if they made "The Lou Cedrone Story" who would play the lead?
CEDRONE: Paul Newman, of course.
SM: If we created a category of five-star movies, which would you include?
CEDRONE: "Gone With the Wind" and "Citizen Kane." "Lost Horizon" and "It Happened One Night" by Frank Capra. "All That Jazz" and "Cabaret" by Bob Fosse. And "2001: A Space Odyssey."
SM: And the worst dreck you ever had to sit through?
CEDRONE: All the "Friday the 13th" and "Elm Street" films.
SM: Did you meet the Beatles?
CEDRONE: Interviewed them and reviewed their show at the [then] Civic Center. Twenty minutes is all they did, but it didn't matter because all the kids were screaming so much. It could have been Guy Lombardo up there. The paper did not assign me to cover them. As I said, the paper was not entertainment-oriented. I did it on my own, then they put my interview on an inside page.
SM: What did the Beatles say?
CEDRONE: I recall that one of the reporters asked John Lennon how it felt to be putting on the entire world. And Lennon, who was no slouch, said, "How does it feel to be put on?" He was smart, and they handled themselves very well.
SM: Elvis. The Beatles. These incredible icons of American culture. What does it all add up to for you?
CEDRONE: For me it adds up to a rich and full professional life. I've lasted and survived. And I'd do it all over again if I had the chance.