A light on a family's dark side

The Baltimore Sun

A new documentary tells the story of a white Annapolis mayor and a black burglar whose long and unlikely friendship helped keep the city calm 40 years ago, after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Pip & Zastrow: An American Friendship also sheds light on another relationship, that between former Mayor Roger "Pip" Moyer and the current mayor, Ellen Moyer. Their marriage, which ended in the 1970s, produced five children and, according to the film, episodes of domestic violence.

An adult daughter recalls seeing Pip hit Ellen dead in the face, knocking her out. The daughter, a son, and Pip and Ellen themselves all recount the time Ellen whacked Pip - who she said had just resurfaced after an unexplained, dayslong absence - with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe.

"He said blood and pulp flew everywhere," said Victoria Bruce, co-producer and co-director of the film. "He describes having to make up a story about taking an elbow in the basketball court."

Bruce and co-filmmaker Karin Hayes struggled over whether to include that material, particularly since Pip was opposed to airing it.

"It was very hard to hear Pip, whom we love and respect, beg us to take it out," she said.

But they ultimately felt it would be unfair to brush over that part of Pip's life, particularly since the movie delves into the criminal and personal misdeeds of the film's other hero, Joseph "Zastrow" Simms.

"He was this great hero, but there was definitely this side with his family that was much darker," Bruce said. "It just shows everyone's real."

Pip Moyer had a different take.

"Should have been left out," he said, adding, "I was not a wife beater."

Ellen Moyer thought the material was "unnecessary" to the film except "to the extent there was the necessity to show people as people."

"It was a passionate relationship," she said. "I would not say there was an abusive relationship, as I understand spousal abuse. ... It's pretty reflective of what families go through and what we struggle with."

Daughter Loni Moyer said many people have thanked her for being open about her parents' relationship in the film.

"For whatever reason, they would let their frustration, disappointment, anger - whatever it was - rise to the point of violence, and they would do that in front of us," she said. "If one set of parents can look at this and say, 'Hey, we shouldn't be doing this in front of the kids,' or, 'This isn't appropriate adult behavior' - if it becomes a source of dialogue, that's OK with me."

As long as the dialogue isn't just gossip, that is.

"I think it would be a shame if anyone allowed that to define my parents, if anyone wanted to cast judgment on them for that alone," Loni Moyer said. "In many ways, they were outstanding as parents. But that wasn't one of them. Heck, my mother read novels to us, drove us across the country. My dad [demonstrated] a sense of community commitment. ... When they were good, they were good, and when they weren't, they weren't."

Too much talent in state for 'Idol'

Jonathan Jensen is a songwriter and musician who has played bass and piano with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for 24 years. Think that gives him a good shot at an American Idol songwriting contest? Think again. Jensen is also a resident of Maryland, and for some reason, that disqualifies him.

Marylanders and residents of a handful of other states - Arizona, Iowa, Connecticut and Vermont - are prohibited from entering "American Idol Songwriter 2008," according to fine print on the contest Web site.

How come? There's no explanation on the site and officials with Fox have not responded to my inquiries.

Jensen has appealed to Martin O'Malley, hoping, as he wrote in a letter to the governor, that the issue would have "special resonance" with the sometime band leader.

"I realize that this issue does not carry the same weight as, say, balancing the state budget, but as a songwriter yourself I hope you will agree that the situation is worthy of investigation," wrote Jensen, who arranged the orchestral backup for an O'Malley's March tune when the Celtic rock band performed with the BSO in 2000.

O'Malley is on the case. Not personally, but his office has someone looking into it.

"I think it's an outrage," O'Malley said. "We have more talent per square mile than any other state in the union. As a governor formerly known as the artist, I'm going to get to the bottom of this great injustice."

Join the laureates and read the paper

Speaking of Johns Hopkins' Peter Agre, as I was the other day, the Nobel laureate e-mailed The Sun's Frank Roylance about a recent story:

"your article in yesterdays sunpaper about the baby elephant has created excitement in our household

"i would like to suggest a name -- 'willy-don' in honor of our former mayor and governor

"colorful local news adds quality to our lives"

"best wishes

"peter agre"

Wow, the guy likes baby elephants, newspaper "brights" and lowercase e-mail! Maybe those chemistry whizzes really are just like the rest of us.

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