Weinglass' interest in the Orioles draws attention to film's models

THE 'DINER' GANG'S IN THE NEWS AGAIN

June 23, 1991|By Randi Henderson

Suddenly that old diner gang of ours is back in the news as one of the crowd's most illustrious alumni, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, explores the possibility of purchasing the Orioles.

The diner guys have achieved the status of a Baltimore institution, catapulted to national prominence by Barry Levinson's 1982 movie "Diner." Academy Award-winning writer and director Mr. Levinson, of course, is another of the young men who went on to achieve fame and/or fortune after hanging out at the Hilltop Diner in Northwest Baltimore in the late '50s and early '60s.

While "Diner," the movie, attached a certain cachet to the hanging-out concept, the fact remains that the Hilltop Diner -- which no longer exists -- was a formative force in the lives of a large group of young Baltimoreans.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the diner phenomenon is that so many of the participants have remained friends through the decades. Many have remained in Baltimore to pursue their various careers and meet formally or informally in restaurants or pool halls or at each other's homes.

For the past two years, the group has institutionalized itself with reunions of several dozen "members," who have gathered at an area camp to participate in sporting events -- which were as much a bond for the boys as the diner's famous French fries with gravy.

The public perception of the individual diner guys is based primarily on Mr. Levinson's movie, which focused on six individuals -- Boogie, Fenwick, Eddie, Shreevie, Billy and Modell. All six nicknames are from real people, but the actual characters, for the most part, are composites of several people.

Probably the character in the movie most true to life is Boogie (played by Mickey Rourke), who is portrayed as a somewhat sleazy but ultimately good-hearted fellow with an unfortunate penchant for gambling.

Mr. Weinglass -- who freely admits to having gambled in his younger years -- went on to found the Merry-Go-Round chain of clothing stores, amassing a fortune said to exceed $100 million. His primary residence is now in Aspen, Colo., and he also has homes in Baltimore, Ocean City and Florida.

A much more detailed and accurate chronicle of the lives of the Hilltop Diner gang can be found in "Diner Guys," a 1989 book by Chip Silverman, which will be published in paperback later this summer.

Mr. Silverman follows the group from childhood to the present with mostly truthful accounts of womanizing, drug-taking, street-fighting and the like, but allows that some of his anecdotes are "embellished." Mr. Silverman, a diner guy in good standing, once served as special adviser to the governor on drug policy and is now director of chemical dependency for Green Spring Mental Health Service.

Another member of the group -- but not of the inner circle because females didn't make it to the inner circle -- who rose to prominence was Ellen Cohen, better known to a generation of rock and roll fans as Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas. Mama Cass is one of several of the group who didn't live to celebrate a 40th birthday.

Locally, Channel 13 newscaster Richard Sher was a diner guy, as was former Baltimore County councilman Gary Huddles. So was Charles Benjamin, who began his career at Merry-Go-Round, successfully established his own chain of clothing stores, High Energy, and recently made the news by establishing a scholarship for minority college students.

Other diner notables include:

* Harold Goldsmith, who became Mr. Weinglass' partner at Merry-Go-Round and then president of Eastern Savings Bank. Mr. Goldsmith died in a plane crash in February.

* Bill McAuliffe, who is a professor of sociology specializing in addictions at Harvard University.

* Sue Schloss Meredith, who married former football player and announcer Don Meredith and is involved with his production company.

* Alan Mason, who has worked as music coordinator for a number of Barry Levinson's films.

* Danny Snyder, creator and president of "Corporate Sports Battle," an ESPN show that pits businessmen against each other in sporting events.

* Donald Saiontz, a Baltimore attorney who has gained prominence with an aggressive advertising campaign.

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