Baltimore Glimpses: the Hollywood trail


A FEW WEEKS BACK the movie "Primal Fear" was the big hit across America. The lead was played by superstar Richard Gere, but many thought that the real star was the young supporting actor, Baltimore (or Columbia) born and bred Edward Norton -- who played "Roy" masterfully. So masterfully that stardom is assured the gifted Mr. Norton, who joins other Baltimoreans who made it out of Baltimore to Hollywood and New York.

We start our list in the 1920s. Some of you might not connect until later on.

Francis X. Bushman, raised on Argyle Avenue near Mosher Street, is remembered as America's first movie "star," "first matinee idol" and first millionaire actor. When he stayed in Baltimore he lived in wild extravagance in a huge mansion out in Green Spring Valley, which he called Bush Manor. He made more than 400 movies, the most famous of which was "Ben Hur."

Fireman's nephew

Edward Everett Horton, whose uncle was the chief in charge of fighting the great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and whose father was a typographer at The Sun, got his start in acting while he was still a student at City College. Of the more than 100 movies in which he appeared, he is best remembered for "Ruggles of Red Gap" and "Arsenic and Old Lace." Typecast early on, he always played the role of a lovable eccentric.

Thomas McAdam Beck began his career in Baltimore, acting first in school plays at P.S. 64 (Garrison Junior High at Garrison Blvd. and Maine Avenue) and then in the 1925 musical, "The Jolly Junior Jubilee" at Forest Park High School. He worked with the Baltimore theater groups Barnstormers and Vagabonds and went on to act in 25 movies -- most of them in the Charlie Chan series.

Pride of Goucher

Mildred Dunnock started acting at Western High School and continued at Goucher College. There, in 1922, she attracted recognition for her role as Gwendolyn Fairfax in Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Ernest." She is remembered for her role in "The Corn Is Green," "Death of A Salesman," "Viva Zapata" and "Sweet Bird of Youth."

Mildred Natwick was born and raised on Greenberry Road in Mt. Washington. She acted with the Vagabonds, and her most important roles were in "The Long Voyage Home," "Barefoot In the Park" and "If This Is Tuesday This Must Be Belgium."

Ben Lyon, who was best known as the husband of one-time superstar Bebe Daniels, graduated from City College in 1915 and went on to Hollywood to star in "For the Love of Mike," "Hell's Angels" and "I Cover the Waterfront."

A Hopkins woman

Margaret Hayes was Florette Ottenheimer when she attended P.S. 64, went to Forest Park High School and graduated as a teacher from Johns Hopkins. She became the first women to act in the Hopkins Barnstormers, where women's roles had been taken by male students dressed as women. She is best remembered for her role in the movie "Blackboard Jungle."

Cab Calloway grew up in the North Avenue and Eutaw Place area and went to Douglass High. He sold newspapers, worked as kitchen help at the Baltimore Country Club and the Rennert Hotel, and ran an elevator at the Southern Hotel. His fame rests largely on his career as a bandleader and night-club entertainer, but he acted in two highly popular movies, "Stormy Weather" and "The Blues Brothers."

Charley Chase was raised on Aisquith Street in East Baltimore. He became friendly with Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, and acted in "Silent Clowns," "Sons of the Desert," and "Neighborhood House." Later, he became one of the Keystone Kops.

Tamara Dobson was studying fashion at the Maryland Institute on Mt. Royal Avenue when she was chosen for parts in a local fashion show. What began as a modeling career became a movie career: "Norman, is that You?" and "Cleopatra Jones" were her best-known films.

Starred in 'Ragtime'

Howard Rollins, who was born on East North Avenue, started his movie career at Towson State. He rose to fame quickly with his performance in "Ragtime." He also starred in "A Soldier's Story" and "I'm Not Rappaport." And if you watch "In the Heat of the Night," on TV you will see him as the detective, playing opposite Carroll O'Connor.

Bess Armstrong attended Bryn Mawr and then went on to star in "High Road to China." She also acted in "This Girl For Hire" and "Four Seasons."

John Rothman is the son of Baltimoreans Donald and Betty Rothman, among the founders and longtime supporters of Center Stage. He went to Park School and has acted in several Woody Allen movies, including "Zelig," "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" and "Stardust Memories."

Josh Charles is the son of Laura and Allen Charles, and you saw him not too long ago in the very successful movie starring Robin Williams, "Dead Poets Society."

Divine (Glen Milstead), the 320-pound hairdresser who lived in Lutherville and graduated from Towson High, is said to have played more women's roles in the movies than Joan Crawford. He was the creation of Baltimore director-producer John Waters, and appeared in Mr. Waters' "Female Trouble," "Polyester," "Pink Flamingoes," "Desperate Living" and "Hairspray."

Edward Norton not only makes our list, he is moving quickly to the top of it!


And speaking of movies, what ever happened to the old neighborhood movie theater?

It's not just that the movie theaters today are filthy -- with a barnyard of popcorn, candy and spilled soda underfoot. There ++ are so few movies in any neighborhood anymore. Neighborhood movies were where you met your neighbors. Now, with the beltways, anybody anywhere in the area can be at any movie anywhere in minutes. But you do not meet your neighbors there.

Where the neighbors were

Into the 1960s your neighborhood movie was where you saw your neighbors. Before the days of home air-conditioners, whole families went to the neighborhood movies to cool off. Saturdays was the day you parked the kids in the movies -- all day.

With changing times, most of the old neighborhood movies disappeared: The Ideal, in Hampden, closed in 1955. Last show, "P.T. 109."

Avalon, 4800 Park Heights Avenue, 1963. "The Outcry."

State, 200 E. Monument St., 1963. "Phantom Planet."

Edgewood, 3500 Edmondson Ave., in 1961. "Foxhole in Cairo."

Royal, 1329 Pennsylvania Ave., in 1970. "Alley Cats."

Ambassador, Liberty Heights and Gwynn Oak, 1968. "The Fox."

Cameo, 4707 Harford Rd., 1958. "Birth Of A Nation."

Forest, 3500 Garrison Blvd, 1961. "On the Waterfront."

Pimlico, Belvedere and Park Heights, 1952. "The Redhead and the Cowboy."

One by one, most of Baltimore's old neighborhood theaters went dark, taking from our lives forever a cherished neighborhood gathering place and day-care center, bringing the whole memorable era at last to "The End"

Gilbert Sandler writes from, and about, Baltimore.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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