Ernest M. McClure

The Baltimore Sun

Ernest Merton "Mac" McClure, a railroader-turned-actor who worked in stage, television and film, died of a stroke Tuesday at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The Mayfield resident was 80.

Mr. McClure's roles ranged from a dead body in the opening scene of an episode of America's Most Wanted to Shirley MacLaine's chauffeur in the movie Being There and dancing the electric slide in Chris Rock's Head of State.

Born and raised on Dunbar Road in Dundalk, Mr. McClure left Sparrows Point High School in his senior year and enlisted in the Navy - earning his General Educational Development diploma while in the service.

A signalman aboard LST 669, Mr. McClure was a veteran of the Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima and Okinawa landings. In 2005, during the 60th-anniversary celebration of the liberation of Saipan, Mr. McClure was awarded a citation and medal for his participation in that battle.

After the war, Mr. McClure returned to Baltimore and went to work in 1946 for the Patapsco & Back Rivers Railroad Co., where he was a supervisor at the time of his 1981 retirement.

During the 1960s, Mr. McClure began performing on stage in local productions of Auntie Mame, Danger's Ahead and Kiss Me, Kate, and then for six years played Arden Rencelaw, the villain of The Drunkard, at the Four Corners Cabaret Theater in Jacksonville in Baltimore County.

In 1967, a WBAL-TV talent scout saw Mr. McClure's performance at Four Corners and hired him to play a cowboy and do local promotional spots for the TV Western series Cheyenne.

Mr. McClure became a regular performer at the Vagabonds, Baltimore Actors Theater, Minnick's Dinner Theater, Hickory Inn in Bel Air and Cockpit in Court in Essex.

He appeared in TV commercials locally and nationally, and won a Clio Award for a spot he made for Mrs. Paul's Kitchens, manufacturers of fish sticks and other frozen seafood products.

He made commercials for McDonald's, Amtrak and Mrs. Filbert's Margarine and appeared on the covers of Time, Business Week and U.S. News & World Report. He starred in 75 industrial films portraying executives for Westinghouse Electric Corp., Cadillac and IBM and appeared in movies made for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

"Mr. McClure is the one likely to be picked, he says, when they're looking for the-kind-of-guy-you-go-to-next-door-to-borrow-the-lawn-mower-from, which is not exactly grammatical but is a highly accurate way of describing his appeal," said a 1980 profile in Sun Magazine. "Agents and producers tell him 'you have a saleable face.'"

Mr. McClure's ruddy and strong-jawed good looks allowed him to appear as a "dentist, a hard hat, a bank vice president, a truck driver, a range of military types and a dozen other recognizable life roles," the magazine story said.

His film work in The Seduction of Joe Tynan, The Exorcist, The Last Detail, Blind Ambition, Mission Impossible and Eleanor and Franklin all hit the cutting room floor during editing, before he found celluloid success in 1979 in Being There. He went on to play Army generals in Protocol and Gods and Generals, a juror in And Justice for All, and had appearances in Diner, Blowout, Tin Man and DC Cop.

In recent years, Mr. McClure became a regular on NBC-TV's Homicide: Life on the Street and later on HBO's The Wire.

"I first encountered Mac before Homicide, and when we started doing the show, we put him in the squad room where you can see him going back and forth. He looks like an old cop," Baltimore casting executive Pat Moran said yesterday.

"He had a real look and accountability. You believed him. He fit many categories and had great versatility. He could be a working guy one minute and a moment later after sticking him in a tux, he looked like a Guilford lawyer. Barry Levinson and John Waters were always eager to work with him."

Mr. McClure reprised his role as a cop in squad room scenes for The Wire, according to Ms. Moran.

He had been a volunteer docent at the Walters Art Museum for the past 14 years, and on Fridays volunteered on the desk at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. He was an expert on the history of Fort Holabird and Fort Howard and helped arrange the society's files relating to the military installations.

"He religiously came to his desk and was always very congenial," said Harry E. Young, another museum volunteer. "He knew everyone in Dundalk and liked its history."

Mr. McClure played tennis into his 70s, enjoyed jogging and walking, and until recent weeks could be seen exercising at Lake Montebello or Merritt Point Park.

He was a communicant at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, 2200 Pelham Ave., where a memorial Mass will be offered at 11:30 a.m. today.

Surviving are his wife of 60 years, the former Zollie Loretta Heggie; a son, Gregory W. McClure of Columbia, Mo.; three daughters, Rosemary A. "Kip" Yoor of Perry Hall, Barrie K. McClure of Baltimore and Claudia J. Fletcher of Harrison, N.Y.; three sisters, Janet Brattan of West Grove, Pa., Dorothy Stolz of Lancaster, Calif., and Veronica McClure of Malden, Mass.; and a granddaughter.

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