Movie premiere draws celebrities and Levinson kin

'AVALON': A FAMILY AFFAIR

October 01, 1990|By Mary Corey

In the Oct. 1 Today section, an actress attending the local premiere of the movie "Avalon" was misidentified in a photo caption. The woman hugging actor Lou Jacobi is Shifra Lerer, who plays Mr. Jacobi's wife in the film.

The Sun regrets the error.

Sure, there were stretch limos and movie stars, spotlights and autograph seekers. But in the end, when Barry Levinson brought his latest movie, "Avalon," home to meet the folks, it was a family affair.

Just ask Cousin Sol.

He happened to be one of more than 50 relatives who gathered at the Senator Theatre last night to celebrate the semi-autobiographical account of family life written, directed and produced by his -- and Baltimore's -- favorite son of film.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"It's sort of a thrill to the family," explained Sol Kirk, a 72-year-old Pikesville native who is Mr. Levinson's second cousin. "It's a funny thing. We're just plain people and then all of a sudden we're being recognized. But the limelight should go to who deserves it -- Barry Levinson."

Attention, indeed, was lavished on the 48-year-old cinematic pride of Baltimore who arrived at the premiere in a silver stretch limo surrounded by beautiful women -- namely his wife, Diana, and stepdaughter, Michelle.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer dubbed him "Mr. Baltimore, Mr. Maryland, Mr. Film Producer," while his mother, Vi Levinson, paid him a more personal tribute, calling "Avalon" a movie a mother could be proud her son made.

"It's a picture that has no violence, no sexy scenes," she said. "I think that's absolutely wonderful."

But the evening was bittersweet for her, she said, since her husband, Irv, was too ill to attend.

Yet for the filmmaker, making the picture proved easier than summing up his feelings about it.

"I can't figure out how to put into words what this means," he said. "It's just nice to be able to do something that employs a lot of people and adds a certain pride to the city."

Although he said he wasn't nervous about the screening, he did say, "There's an anxiety because you hope that the people will accept what you've done."

FTC More than 800 people shelled out $75 each and weathered the rain to attend the sold-out benefit. It began shortly after 6 p.m. when talk show host Larry King gave a brief introduction. He called "Avalon," which he had seen days before, "one helluva movie."

And after the screening, others echoed that sentiment. "It was beautiful," said Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, director of the Maryland Film Commission. "Barry really celebrates people."

Tom Kiefaber, co-owner of the Senator, called it "an exquisite film from the heart."

In keeping with the period theme, a vintage firetruck rode down York Road. Some actors and family members even came by trolley.

As Lou Jacobi, one of the stars, walked into the theater, he called the movie, "a love letter to Baltimore."

Moments after he arrived, a very wet cement block bearing the signatures of several "Avalon" cast and crew members, as well as the mayor and governor, was unveiled in front of the theater.

"This means a great deal to the city," said Mayor Kurt Schmoke. "Whenever Barry brings a film crew to Baltimore, it contributes to the economy. He's also very sensitive to the city -- it's history and architecture."

The mayor stood next to his wife, Patricia Schmoke, who was making her first public appearance with him since breast cancer surgery earlier this year. As she stood under an umbrella, she delivered what arguably was the best line of the evening: "They should have premiered 'Rain Man' tonight."

"Avalon" -- which chronicles a Russian immigrant family's arrival in America and the assimilation that takes place over the next 50 years -- is Mr. Levinson's companion piece to "Diner" and "Tin Men," films also set, shot and celebrated in the director's hometown. His other works include "Good Morning, Vietnam" and Mrs. Schmoke's and Mr. Schaefer's personal favorite, "Rain Man," for which Mr. Levinson won an Oscar in 1989.

"Avalon," incidentally, refers to the place in Celtic mythology that is "the home of the heart."

For this movie -- which cost less than $20 million and opens in Baltimore on Friday -- Mr. Levinson relied on dozens of locations, including Roland Park, Fells Point and Mount Vernon.

He also relied on 18 relatives to fill small parts and serve as extras, seemingly proving that everything in Barry Levinson's life is relative.

Miles A. Perman, Barry's second cousin, has proud memories of playing a gas station attendant in the film. "It was fun, but it also makes us very proud," said the Towson State University student.

Bigger names like Joan Plowright, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth Perkins and Armin Mueller-Stahl round out the cast.

Mr. Mueller-Stahl, who attended the premier, said that although the film is based on Mr. Levinson's personal recollections, it strikes a universal chord.

It's a timeless, borderless film," he said. "It's personal for me too.My grandfather came from Russia.

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