"What are you going to do with that collection of Playbills?" we ask Lou Cedrone, who's busily stacking and arranging them, just so. "They're going to the Enoch Pratt Free Library," he says with pride, satisfied that his years of carefully filing and protecting these programs wasn't for naught.
This was just a few days before he wrote his final column as film and theater critic for The Evening Sun, a tenure that began at a quarter to Jayne Mansfield and ends at half past Madonna. After 40 years at the newspaper, 28 of them as its critic, Lou Cedrone bids adieu to Calvert and Centre streets, the crossroads where he wrote thousands of movie, stage and television reviews for Baltimore's afternoon newspaper.
On this sunny Friday morning, with eastern light illuminating his office space, we ask if he would mind having the tables turned on him. Would he consent to an interview? With characteristic grace, he agrees.
SUN MAGAZINE: Have you ever stopped to calculate how many films you've seen?
CEDRONE: It averages out to be 250 a year, since October of 1963.
SM: That means a substantial portion of your adult life has been spent in the dark.
CEDRONE: Yah, but I behaved myself.
SM: If memory serves, you do not eat in theaters.
CEDRONE: I really don't associate eating with watching movies. I go back to the time when the most you had at a movie theater was a candy machine. No popcorn. Drinks weren't allowed. Then, it all broke down. They all started putting in popcorn machines.
SM: Do you feel there has been a decline in the behavior of moviegoers?
CEDRONE: Absolutely. Back in the time that nearly every seat was filled, people were much more polite and there was very little talking. And there was no gum chewing.
SM: What was the most outrageous act you ever witnessed in a movie theater?
CEDRONE: I did see one couple making love in one of the theaters at Harbor Park.
SM: Was there a love story on the screen, too?
CEDRONE: Horror film. At least the couple was in the back. That was considerate of them.
SM: Any other strange and unusual sights?
CEDRONE: For a time, there was a lot of pot smoking at certain theaters. You could walk in to some of them and get yourself a secondary jag. Not an immediate high, but a post-immediate high.
SM: What would you say is your favorite film genre?
CEDRONE: I like most of them, except horror films and the supernatural. I think supernatural films are intellectually insulting, and horror films are sociologically damaging. I love musicals and light comedy. And action films. Bruce Willis' "Die Hard" films, and even some Schwarzenegger.
SM: Do you recall your first official review as Evening Sun film critic?
CEDRONE: "The Silence," an Ingmar Bergman film which I did not like. I never appreciated Bergman.
SM: Do people approach you at intermission of a play to share their opinion or ask yours?
CEDRONE: Frequently. They'll ask how I like it, and I'll always turn it around and ask how they like it. If they say, "I think it's great," and I agree with them, I'll say so. But if I disagree, I keep my mouth shut.
SM: We've noticed that you scoot right out of your aisle seat for the exit at the end of a performance. Is that to avoid those questions?
CEDRONE: Not at all. That's simply to get to the office in time to write the review.
SM: How much abuse do you take from people who don't agree with you?
CEDRONE: You do get letters. Readers became enraged because my opinion differed from theirs. I've never understood it.
L SM: How often would you get abuse from an actor or director?
CEDRONE: Not often. Most people I've interviewed have been pretty damned nice. Movie actors you never hear from. Stage actors frequently will let you know if they're happy or unhappy with something you've written. Sometimes, you receive thank you notes. Mitzi Gaynor sends Christmas cards. Bob Hope, too.
SM: How many times did you interview Hope?
CEDRONE: Six or seven, I guess. Once, when I was in California as a television writer, we were invited out to his house. There's a golf course in the back yard, and he had a driving competition among the writers. I won, and I had never had a golf club in my hands before. Or since. I have the trophy at home.
SM: Readers will recall that in addition to being film and theater critic, you were TV critic for The Evening Sun, as well.
CEDRONE: From 1963 till 1978, I did all three. I just felt we should have someone doing television. At the time, it was not a staff that was particularly attuned to entertainment. There were many strongly religious people on the desk, and they didn't approve of people like, say, Jayne Mansfield. She came here once on a publicity tour, on a train that stopped at Pennsylvania Station. Reporters were to go there for interviews. But the city editor at the time refused to allow anyone to go. He thought of her as the Antichrist.
SM: Wasn't there a time when the stars would come right to the paper to be interviewed?