Baltimore-born film star's presence lives on in bronze


JAMES HARP, the music director at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, called the other day to ask what I knew of Baltimore-born stage and film star Francis X. Bushman. Jim will be playing the organ tomorrow for the 1925 silent Ben-Hur, which gets my vote as one of the most amazing films I've ever seen.

As a child, I heard much about Bushman (1883-1966), who plays Messala, not so much because he was a big deal on the screen. The biographical details issued from my grandmother, Lily Rose, who once spotted the great Bushman and his girlfriend, actress Beverly Bayne, as they sailed down Broadway in his chauffeured, 20-foot-long, gold-trimmed, lavender Marmon limousine. With them were a couple of Great Danes, Bushman's favorite breed of dog, on their way to a veterinarian's office at Broadway and Federal, just down the street from Lil's family home.

Bushman loved animals and kept quite a menagerie. As a boy, growing up on Argyle Avenue, he'd buy scraps from the butchers at the Lafayette Market to feed all the pets he kept.

Bushman cut a flamboyant figure. He wore a huge amethyst ring, and his press agents said he smoked custom, extra-long cigarettes covered in lavender paper.

He fathered a large family, and had a wife named Josephine, whom he kept out of the public eye at Bushmanor, his home on Landrake Road in Riderwood. He also kept an apartment above the old Zell Motor Car Co. (Packards for sale) on Mount Royal Avenue between Charles and St. Paul streets.

And while Bushman's name is dusty today, his presence lives in Baltimore in the permanence of hardened bronze.

Bushman, who was billed as the "handsomest man in the world," earned extra money as a young man as a sculptor's model in Baltimore and New York. As a result, an amazing number of Beaux Arts Francis X. Bushmans show up from New York to San Francisco. (He claimed he modeled as George Washington for the Wall Street statue.)

According to a 1998 Bushman biography by Richard and Mary Maturi, we have Francis X. Bushman as Cecil Calvert on St. Paul Street outside the Mitchell Courthouse. He modeled for the Confederate soldiers and sailors memorial in Wyman Park at Charles and 29th streets. Our movie star is the Confederate warrior wearing the military cap.

Bushman turns up in bronze as Francis Scott Key on Eutaw Place. If you visit the monument, which sits in a prominent position in the street's boulevard strip, there is no doubting who posed as the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Ben-Hur will be screened with organ accompaniment at 2 p.m. tomorrow at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1900 St. Paul St. Free-will offering.

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