Stars in our eyes -- and stars in our midst


While mega-star Nicole Kidman continues to enjoy a Maryland autumn from a slightly secluded rented house on Boyce Avenue in Ruxton, reported sightings of the ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise continue to swirl throughout North Baltimore.

She has been seen at the Merritt Athletic Club working out, dining on sushi in Towson, and now in Graul's Market in Ruxton.

There hasn't been such a celebrity buzz in the upscale community since the early 1990s, when actor Ned Beatty, in town to reprise his role of Stanley Bolander on Homicide: Life on the Street, rented a house on Berwick Road.

Beatty, who quickly adapted to life there, prided himself on being an amateur baker and often descended to Graul's seeking the advice of Carol Fulker, a manager, and the bakery staff when he got into a tight corner while making bread or whipping up a pie or cake.

He surprised his neighbors when he showed up at the neighborhood's annual fall get-together carrying a trayload of cookies he had prepared in his kitchen.

The other day, a caller reported that Kidman, who formerly sent her chef to Graul's for supplies, made an appearance in the Bellona Avenue market late in the afternoon.

Lester Watson, one of the store's cashiers -- who is known as "Mr. Ruxton" -- is often at the express check-out, and it was here that Kidman patiently stood, waiting to pay for her purchases.

"I think she had some salmon and broccoli. I mean, I didn't know it was her. I asked if she had her Graul's preferred-customer card, and she said, 'No, I'm only in town for a little while,'" Watson said yesterday.

"After she left, I said to the man behind her, 'What a beautiful woman,' and he said, 'No wonder. It's Nicole Kidman.' She was stunningly beautiful, tall and statuesque, and was dressed in a beige sweater and slacks," Watson said. "Another time, she was in the store dressed in black slacks and wearing high heels. The guys checked the security tape to make sure it was her, and it was."

This isn't the first time, and probably not the last, that Baltimoreans have gone gaga over a Hollywood star in their midst.

On Aug. 18, 1951, crowds of admirers jammed Pennsylvania Station awaiting the arrival of the 2:52 p.m. train from New York, which was carrying Francis X. Bushman -- one of film's first superstars, who thrilled audiences in the 1926 classic Ben Hur -- for a three-day visit to his native city.

Once billed as the "Handsomest Man in the World," Bushman was whisked away by a police escort with sirens wailing all the way to City Hall, where Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. presented him with a key to the city.

Upon meeting D'Alesandro, the matinee idol, who was known as America's first million-dollar star, said, "D'Alesandro," while the mayor quickly replied: "Ben Hur."

Born in 1883, and raised in a rowhouse at Argyle and Mosher streets, Bushman enjoyed telling listeners how in his younger days he threw bricks at a youthful H.L.Mencken, and purchased scraps of meat from market stalls with which to fed his vast collection of animals, which included frogs, lizards, dogs and cats.

Bushman was a student at Calvert Hall College High School when at the age of 13, he began taking walk-on parts with a Baltimore stock company. He later modeled for the Charcoal Club and the Maryland Institute.

He posed for the statue of Cecil Calvert that stands overlooking St. Paul Street in front of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.

He began his film career in 1911 with the Essany Co. when he starred in Two Men and a Girl, and his career soared after moving to Metro Studios, which later became part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

"In his palmy days, Bushman rode in a 23-foot purple Marmon with his name in big gold letters on the door, and he smoked eight-inch mauve cigarettes in a holder. An inch under six feet, he had the torso of a wrestler," reported The Evening Sun.

Wherever he went, the celebrated pre-Valentino screen lover drew enormous crowds. Thousands of fan letters arrived weekly, and Bushman often traveled with bodyguards.

Until being forced to sell his home in 1919 to pay off mounting debts, Bushman lived in regal splendor at Bush Manor, his Riderwood estate, which still stands on Landrake Road.

His popularity began to fade when his adoring fans learned that his wife, the former Josephine Fladuene, sued him for divorce in Towson. Three days after it was final, he married Beverly Bayne, one of his his leading ladies, who divorced him in 1928.

"When I was elected King of the Cinema on Bushman-Bayne Day in San Francisco in 1915, my clothes were practically torn off me by fans who wanted souvenirs. It was the same on the boats every time I sailed to Europe for a rest," Bushman told the Associated Press in a 1947 interview.

After losing his fans and celebrated clashes with studio bosses, including Louis B. Mayer, Bushman found himself blacklisted and out of work.

"The realization that the public could crucify its 'chosen big' overnight, sobered me," Bushman said in the 1947 interview.

Between high living and the stock market crash of 1929, Bushman lost his estimated $6 million fortune.

He returned to the stage, performed on radio, and eventually returned to the movies. He even conquered the new medium of TV, appearing on such 1950s and 1960s staples as Gunsmoke, Dr. Kildare, 77 Sunset Strip and Batman.

"I got $6 million worth of enjoyment," he said, reflecting on his life. "Beside, I don't think about yesterday. I love today and live it to the fullest."

His last movie was The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini in 1966, the same year he died.

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