IT'S BEEN a great 40 years. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it exactly as I have.
Being movie and stage critic for The Evening Sun for 28 of those years (for more than 14 of those same years, I also did television criticism) has been a career dream come true.
No regrets. No sad songs. I was a star worshiper and remain one. It has been my privilege to interview some of the biggies during all those years, among them Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Meryl Streep, William Holden, Sylvester Stallone, Gregory Peck, Robert Taylor, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Paul Newman and James Mason (who said my face should be on a stamp, whatever that means). Add Mary Tyler Moore, Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Red Buttons, Bob Hope and Milton Berle to the list. The adulation may have been evident.
I began doing film criticism in 1963, when first-run movies played downtown at the Mayfair, the New, the Stanton and the Town. At that time, Baltimore also had a number of art houses, thanks to the late Howard Waggonheim, who managed the Five West, the Seven East, the Playhouse and the North Avenue Cinema.
They're gone now. The buildings may remain, but they are not showing movies.
When I began as a critic, theaters such as the Boulevard and the Senator were neighborhood houses. The Boulevard is now a mall, of sorts, but the Senator survives as the city's class house, an art deco reminder of a style that was once more popular than it is.
They didn't swear much on the screen back in 1963. Today, on television they use words the Maryland Censor Board -- long gone -- would never have allowed.
Those early movies didn't have characters who were disemboweled, dismembered and otherwise mistreated. And there were no supernatural films (not in steady stream), most of which have been intellectually dead.
''Rosemary's Baby'' (1967) began the supernatural cycle, one that has not yet finished, and ''The Exorcist'' (1973) began the supernatural-horror cycle. Those were the best of the batch. Few of the imitations came close.
When I began this job, the teen sex film (''Porky's,'' etc.) was yet to be invented, and now that it has disappeared, more or less, it will not be missed.
The black action films came and went. At one time, stars like Jim Brown, Fred Kelly, Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree came to town to promote their films. So did Melvin Van Peebles, father of Mario Van Peebles, director of ''New Jack City.''
Black audiences took to the action movies, then tired of them, finally demanding films with a little more content. ''Sounder,'' ''The Learning Tree'' and ''Claudine'' were a few of the ''black'' films that departed from the familiar formula.
All have been succeeded by quality movies directed by young black men who looked to their own experiences. Some (''Boyz N the Hood'') have actually crossed over, something the ''blacksploitation'' films never did.
The price of admission has risen. Not as many people go to the movie theaters as they did back in 1963, but they're probably seeing more films than ever, thanks to the cassette industry, which, at last count, was bringing in more money than the theatrical trade.
The cinema complex replaced the individual movie houses. Today, the movie patron demands choice and gets it at these multiplex locations.
Back in 1964, shortly after I took over as stage critic, Ford's theater, an elegant lady who stood at the northeast corner of Fayette and Eutaw streets, was torn down. For a year or so, the Stanton, curtained off toward the rear, was used as a live house, then for a time, Baltimore had no road theater. The Morris A. Mechanic Theatre opened in 1967 and, with a few lapses, has been flourishing ever since.
Road theater is not as big now as it was back then. Operators of road houses could choose back then. Today, some of the regionals have to participate in the production of live shows in order to fill their schedules.
Center Stage began just before I became drama critic. The company was working on Preston Street then. They would later move to North Avenue, where they were burned out. For a time, the company worked at the College of Notre Dame, then moved to Calvert Street, where their patronage is sure and steady.
It's all been continually exciting. I wouldn't have had it any other way, and my heartfelt thanks go to people like the late Phillip Heisler, managing editor of The Evening Sun until 12 years ago, and to the late Bill Perkinson, Evening Sun science editor, who, more than anyone else, encouraged me to go for it.
I did, and it's been great, thanks, in large part, to those who have read my reviews, knowing that it was only my opinion. And thanks to those who have called, expressing their regret over my leaving.
I don't know what I'll be doing in the future. I do know I will keep walking those five miles a day, read, travel and continue to play tennis as often as I can. I also hope to find a way to continue to voice my opinion on the local entertainment scene. It's a habit hard to break.