'Roc' is true Baltimore, says a man who should know, since he's the role's model

August 26, 1991|By Randi Henderson

John Wood just couldn't help himself.

He knew it was coming, he'd seen it before. Yet as actor Charles Dutton -- playing a Baltimore trashman named Roc -- proclaimed his pride in his work, the smile that stole across Mr. Wood's face and the affirmative nod of his head were as inexorable as an ocean's tide.

"I'm a garbage man," Roc was saying in the sneak preview of the series "Roc" that aired on the Fox television network last night. "It happens to be a fine job with a great purpose."

And John Wood, a 30-year veteran of Baltimore's sanitation department, couldn't agree more.

Explaining why he has always enjoyed being a trashman, you could easily imagine Roc saying the same words.

"I became enthused about being a trashman," Mr. Wood said softly during a commercial. "Throwing those cans, it was just like playing baseball. Ducking cans, ducking rats. It was something to keep you in shape. Having fun with the people -- they're fussing and you're laughing."

It's no coincidence, this similarity. Here is a case where art imitates life, not by happenstance but by design. Because when Baltimore native Charles Dutton decided to create and star in a sitcom about a trashman, he came home and consulted with his old friend John Wood about what it's really like.

Seeing "Roc" on TV last night brought no revelations for Mr. Wood, who watched with his wife Hattie, his daughter Marina (the only one of their three daughters still living at home) and their two foster children, who are handicapped. Mr. and Mrs. Wood were guests of the show's producers earlier this month in Los Angeles, where they viewed a screening of the first four episodes of "Roc."

Another unexpected bonus was lunch last Tuesday with the mayor who proclaimed the day John Wood Day. "I don't get too excited about things," Mr. Wood said. "But that was pretty exciting."

A year ago, if you'd have asked John Wood about the likelihood of a day in his honor, an all-expenses-paid trip to L.A., a TV series based on him and his job, he might have thought you were crazy. Today Mr. Wood will tell you life has a way of taking some strange turns.

John Wood and Charles Dutton grew up in the same neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore, although Mr. Wood, 58, is a bit older than the 40-year-old actor. "We did a bit of hanging around," Mr. Wood said of their relationship, and he dismissed the manslaughter and assault charges that landed Mr. Dutton in Maryland correctional institutions as something that unfortunately sometimes comes with the territory.

"Everybody had to be tough those days," Mr. Wood said. "Everybody had something bad in their life happen to them that can't be helped. He was a good guy."

Mr. Dutton put his bad times behind him with a successful stage and film acting career. And the good guy in him is certainly incorporated into good-hearted Roc, a character who embodies some of Mr. Dutton and some of Mr. Wood. The two men, in fact, look remarkably alike, with similar closely sheared heads, strong barrel-chested builds and winning smiles.

To research the character and trappings for "Roc," Mr. Dutton and his producer came to Baltimore last year and spent some time with Mr. Wood, talking about the job and touring the landfills. One of the show's continuing themes is Roc's habit of bringing home other people's trash to furnish his home.

Mr. Wood knows where that idea came from. "Oh, yes," he said, "I've done that. Clothes, radio, TV, all kinds of stuff."

And both Mr. and Mrs. Wood thought the strong, loving relationship between Roc and his wife was a reflection of their own.

"Absolutely," Mrs. Wood said of its accuracy. "I don't think every woman could adjust to this life. I was always saying to John, 'Don't bring no more junk here, please. Just get this junk away from here!'"

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