Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? In the case of Police Capt. Gary D'Addario, the answer is both. Not only does D'Addario have more than 32 years with the Baltimore Police Department, he has become a veteran of the Baltimore-based TV drama "Homicide: Life on the Street."
This much of the story you know: In 1988 David Simon, then a Sun reporter, decides to write a book about the Baltimore Homicide Department. He persuades the police commissioner to grant him full access to a homicide unit. The book is published in 1991, and a year later producers Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana decide to create the TV show based on the book.
The story you don't know: At the time Simon came knocking, Gary D'Addario was a lieutenant and shift commander, in charge of three sergeants and 15 homicide detectives. Although many officers were against having a journalist around to record their every move, D'Addario was more confident. "As a result," he says, "David was assigned to my shift."
It changed his life.
When the "Homicide" producers needed a technical adviser, they asked D'Addario. He didn't "know anything about what a technical adviser does," he said, "but sure."
Turns out, the job was just to tell them when they weren't being like Baltimore cops. If the script said "put out an APB," for an all-points bulletin, D'Addario would change it to "put out a Teletype," like Baltimore's cops would say.
After four seasons of that, D'Addario started thinking. "I was reading script after script after script and at certain parts I thought, 'Hey, I could do that.' "
He called an assistant director.
Drama on the force
D'Addario's brush with "show-biz" didn't start with "Homicide."
After graduating in 1960 from Calvert Hall, he tried to make a living singing in local rock bands. He worked as a radio announcer for eight months, but because of the low pay, decided to apply to the police department. It was 1966.
"It was supposed to be a temporary job," D'Addario muses. "I just wanted to save enough money to get an agent and be a singer." But the unusual atmosphere of police work kept him intrigued. "There was a certain mystique that attracted me to the job."
"Mystique" is one way to describe what happened in Baltimore in 1968; "pandemonium" would be another. On April 6, two days after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., angry crowds gathered in the streets of the city, breaking windows, looting small businesses and causing mayhem.
D'Addario remembers the riots well: "Usually when there is a call, the dispatcher gives one car one assignment." But since the violence was so overwhelming, the dispatchers were calling all units with a list of tasks. "Attention, all Northwest districts -- the following lootings in progress. Any car available respond and do the best you can."
"My partner and I responded to a looting at a local grocery store where 30 to 40 people were scattering from the smashed-out windows, running with groceries and other stolen goods. One straggler was about 20 feet away with two bags. Since looting is a felony, my partner took out his gun, aimed it and said, 'Stop or I'll shoot,' even though we had been ordered not to shoot at looters. The guy was jogging at a slow pace. He turned around, snickered at us, laughed, and ran away. We felt so totally helpless."
D'Addario usually feels more positive about his work. "I feel an immense sense of gratitude because I am given so many opportunities to help people."
At 57, and after 32 years with the police department, he still finds his job satisfying and enjoyable, but "the dream of trying to get into show business has always remained."
Testing the waters
D'Addario asked the assistant director whether a particular part had been cast.
Indeed, it had.
D'Addario figured he would say his thank-yous and leave. But about a week later, he received a call: Come down immediately to audition for another part. He braved it.
"Even though I honestly thought I had given a pretty good read, the casting director hurried me out of the room, quickly giving me one of those 'don't call us, we'll call you' type attitudes. I figured, 'What the heck -- nothing ventured, nothing gained.' "
Much to D'Addario's surprise, he received a phone call about a week later. The director chose him to play the minor but recurring role of Lieutenant Jasper.
"I was elated to say the least," he says. But the real joy came after the taping was finished. "All these people complimented me, saying 'we didn't realize you could do it.' Then the writers asked me to join the Screen Actors Guild. I guess they were sufficiently impressed."
Lieutenant Jasper was introduced as a speaking character in 1995. Since then, D'Addario has been in 13 episodes.
As a member of the Quick Response Team, Jasper and his men are specially trained to handle particularly dangerous incidents, often involving hostage situations. You might remember a few: In Jasper's first appearance, tensions are running high in the squad room as Detective Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) outlines plan to bring in a suspect. Jasper doesn't agree with Pembleton's methods and they argue. The result is a (real) Baltimore police detective who has never acted before, squaring off against one of today's most accomplished television actors who is portraying a Baltimore cop. D'Addario held his own.
During D'Addario's third season as Jasper, the Quick Response Team is called in because a suspect is holding a sixth-grade classroom hostage. In exchange for the release of the children, the suspect demands that the police retrieve his pet pig from his house. Jasper is adamant about controlling the situation, trying to hold the homicide officers at bay. The tension between the two departments is evident, as each unit battles for control. Jasper and the QRT win.
Today on the "Homicide" sets, the advice seems to flow in both directions -- D'Addario explains correct police procedures, and the actors direct D'Addario on correct acting methods.
"Basically they tell me: 'Don't act; just let it flow as if it's occurring naturally.' "
His family was rattled to see him on the television screen. His wife, Mary, remembers: "We were all together watching the first episode with Lieutenant Jasper, and our daughter's jaw dropped to the floor. 'That's Dad?!' she exclaimed. It's really exciting to see Gary do what he loves."
Familial pride doesn't end there, though. D'Addario's son, a radio DJ in the Salisbury area, always urges his listeners to watch "Homicide," especially when his dad's going to be on.
Still, D'Addario is not totally at ease. "Since my roles are infrequent -- four or five episodes a season -- I'm not entirely at home with it yet." But there's still time.
He's prepping for his next appearance: On Jan. 15, Lieutenant Jasper attempts to make sense of a riot scene. It should be familiar ground.
Pub Date: 12/30/98