Melissa Lynn "Stanley" Cohen, a Baltimore film production coordinator who worked on movies including Failure to Launch and Ladder 49, died of breast cancer Wednesday at Mercy Medical Center. She was 36.
Cohen, who grew up in Ellicott City, graduated from Mount Hebron High School in 1989. She attended classes at Catonsville Community College but quit to follow her mother, a hair and makeup artist, into the film industry.
She moved to Los Angles when she was 18. After finding she wasn't getting her calls returned in the male-dominated film world, she borrowed her dad's name and began sending out resumes as "Stanley Cohen."
It stuck. Most people in the film industry, though quite aware of her real name, fell into the habit of calling her Stanley.
After a few years, Cohen moved back to Baltimore and worked in production on the set of a number of films shooting locally. Jack Gerbes, director of the Maryland Film Office, said he doesn't remember exactly when he met Cohen, but he remembers her energy, her attitude and a twinkle of mischief in her eye.
"I remember saying, 'Who is that?'" Gerbes said. "You'd work with her and you'd want to remain a lifelong friend of her."
As a production coordinator, Cohen was responsible for making a movie shoot run smoothly, ensuring that all the people and the equipment were where they needed to be.
Cohen's resume included production work on movies such as Failure To Launch, Ladder 49, A Dirty Shame, Osmosis Jones, The Wedding Planner, Me Myself & Irene, Random Hearts, Twelve Monkeys and Antwone Fisher.
David Nicksay, executive producer for Step Up 2, said when he prepared to film in Baltimore, everyone told him there's one production coordinator you want - "It's Stanley."
"Because she had worked with a lot of real gritty kinds of positions, she could deal in a salt-of-the-earth kind of way with anybody and everybody," he said. "She could get on anybody's wavelength, speak very honestly and just get things done."
He said Cohen was "essentially my partner in putting together the nuts and bolts of the moviemaking process," handling everything from recruiting crew members to setting up telephone service and ordering food.
A number of people who worked with her said Cohen, with her spunk, charisma and perseverance, simply got it done. "If you looked up the word moxie in the dictionary, they'd have a picture of Melissa," wrote Cohen's friend, Beth Bell of Baltimore, on a tribute she posted on Cohen's blog.
"She packed more in her short lifetime than most people do who live to be 85," Bell wrote. "She bought and sold a number of houses, had numerous occupations that she excelled at, of course, she jumped out of airplanes, fell in love, was the beloved owner to a number of pets, and not only made countless friends, but also connected friends."
Cohen moved to Colorado for a stint to teach white-water rafting but returned to Baltimore. She married Garrett Scott Altvater in January 2006.
Three years ago she discovered she was in the advanced stages of breast cancer. Cohen documented her struggle with the disease on her Web site.
When she signed up for the Susan G. Komen walk to raise money for breast cancer research and education, Randy Herbert, a film construction coordinator, said nearly the entire cast and crew of the HBO series The Wire, which is filmed in Baltimore, joined the effort. Herbert met Cohen about a decade ago on the set of For Richer or Poorer.
"It was just unbelievable support from the littlest person in production on up to the top," Herbert said. "And she didn't even work with them. They just knew her."
Longtime friend Kerry Craven said Cohen attacked her job and her disease with a passionate determination.
"She treated every minute of every day like a battle - and not in a bad way," Craven said. "It was always 'I can do this; it can be done.'
"She was a renaissance revolutionary."
Cohen was preceded in death by her father, Stanley Cohen. She is survived by her husband; her mother, Ardis Cohen of Pikesville; a brother, Jeremy Jordan Cohen of Mount Airy; and two nieces.
Sun reporter Laura Vozzella contributed to this article.