Harold N. Goldsmith, a member of the 1950s Hilltop Diner gang depicted in the film "Diner" who went on to build a financial and retail empire, was killed last night when his chartered Learjet crashed in a light snow near Aspen, Colo.
Goldsmith, 49, was one of three people on the aircraft that was en route from Las Vegas and was cleared for landing at Sandy Field when it went down on a mesa about a half-mile short of the runway.
The two other dead, members of the crew, were not yet identified, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff's Department.
Goldsmith co-founded with Leonard (Boogie) Weinglass -- another character in the popular rite-of-passage movie produced by Baltimorean Barry Levinson -- the Merry-Go-Round retail clothing chain and was head of the Eastern Savings Bank in Baltimore.
While well known as a successful businessman, Goldsmith was also a respected philanthropist who helped raise millions of dollars for his favorite organizations.
"He sparked an entire generation of young men and women to be Jewish communal leaders," Martin L. Waxman, vice president of the Associated Jewish Charities, said today.
"In both his philanthropic and business worlds, he was hard working, meticulous, hard driving," Waxman said.
Michael Surgen, executive vice president of Eastern Savings, who knew Goldsmith for 10 years, said he "was highly successful but never stepped on people's toes to get where he is."
Goldsmith's personal accountant for 25 years, Alan Berkowitz, today called his friend "dynamic, a kind individual. It's a great loss for the entire community."
Goldsmith was described as a skinny kid who grew up in Pimlico but quickly established his intelligence and skipped a few grades of school. During that time, he began hanging out at the Hilltop Diner with Weinglass, Levinson and others who were a few years older.
Goldsmith graduated from Baltimore City College in 1959 and later from the University of Maryland at College Park. He followed in his father's footsteps and sold real estate and quickly established himself as a wizard with closing deals and making money.
In 1970, he and Weinglass started Merry-Go-Round Enterprises. Through their hard work combined with smart marketing and outlet placement, the pair parlayed their original investment to what the business is today -- 700 stores in 38 states worth an excess of $150 million at the end of the 1991 fiscal year, a spokesman said today.
The Merry-Go-Round corporate headquarters is in Joppa in Harford County, and while Goldsmith removed himself from the day-to-day activities of the business, he remained an influential co-chair with Weinglass.
Ten years ago, Goldsmith bought Eastern Savings Bank, which basically catered to a working-class clientele in Southeast Baltimore.
Goldsmith's magic touch worked again, according to Surgen. As president and chairman of the board, Goldsmith expanded the bank to seven branches in the Baltimore metropolitan area, and it is "very stable and doing quite well," Surgen said.
Goldsmith also directed his energy and business acumen toward charitable fund raising. Waxman of the Associated Jewish Charities remembered how at age 28, Goldsmith began his long commitment to the organization.
"He came in at 28 as a member of the young leadership council and began helping with fund raising," Waxman said.
"Harold was a true leader right from the start," Waxman said. "In 1981 he was general chairman of the fund-raising campaign, the youngest in 60 years. And he helped raise more than $1 million more than the previous year.
"He was not only an inspiration to people in his age group, he impacted on all of us, all ages," Waxman said.
Goldsmith owned an estate in the Green Spring Valley but he, his wife, Beth, and their young child spent most of their time at their Colorado home, according to friends.
Services will be conducted at 11 a.m. Sunday from the Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 8100 Stevenson Road in Pikesville. Burial will be in the Arlington Chizuk Amuno Cemetery on North Rogers Avenue.