A Chip off the old Block Ex-child star returns for a day

October 21, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Stanley Livingston had something over the other 1960s child stars in Hollywood, an advantage that the kid who played Eddie Munster and the boy who raced across the tube as Dennis the Menace didn't have.

The guy who played chubby Chip on "My Three Sons" from 1960 to 1972, Mr. Livingston had a family that hailed from Baltimore.

Now 41, he thinks his local roots might have helped him remain as normal as a kid can be when you grow up on television.

"Mom wasn't a stage mother at all," said Mr. Livingston, whose younger brother Barry played "Ernie" on the show. "I'd come home from the studio and she'd say: 'Get out there in the yard, pick up that dog [expletive], and then take out the trash.'"

Just the kind of thing you might hear bellowed out the back door of any Baltimore rowhouse.

Mr. Livingston's mother, the late Marilyn Palyash, danced as a stripper on The Block before World War II.

His father, Hilliard Livingston, grew up selling fruit at Lexington Market and worked in the Clover Theater burlesque house that Hilliard's father owned for a quarter-century at 412 E. Baltimore St.

Known around the world as the Scratch House, the theater was where Hilliard fell in love with a dancer who stripped to the name Marilyn Primrose.

Now a writer and director, Mr. Livingston was back in town yesterday, knocking about the family haunts to research a documentary he hopes to make on the history of burlesque.

"I didn't really know the whole story when I was growing up. My parents made it sound like Mom worked in a theater and I thought she worked behind the counter selling candy or taking tickets," he said. "But when I was 16, I was eavesdropping on my Mom and my aunt and they were talking about how they didn't want anybody to know they had that background.

"But I thought it was pretty neat. You can go down all walks of life -- some kids moms went to college or just stayed home. Mine danced in the burlesque."

After World War II, Hilliard and Marilyn left Baltimore for Los Angeles where Stanley was born.

The boy got into acting when a casting agent enrolled her child in the same swim class he was taking. The agent persuaded Mrs. Livingston to audition Stanley for "The Ozzie and Harriet Show."

Ozzie Nelson took a shine to the tyke and gave him his first speaking part.

Mr. Livingston has been in show biz ever since -- playing dopey kids in the early "Lassie" shows and movies like George Peppard's "How the West Was Won;" horsing around on the spaceship from "My Favorite Martian;" feeding sugar cubes off-stage to "Mr. Ed;" writing TV pilots for Sherman "George Jefferson" Helmsley; producing one-woman shows for Kaye Ballard; doing dinner theater in Olney, Md.; and getting Christmas cards from Elvis.

"I'll be Chip forever," he said of the show which is still in syndication. "But I haven't had to rob a 7-Eleven yet."

Before he ever saw a sound stage, he was hearing stories about Baltimore.

"Dad told me about getting into a fight with a kid who stole an apple from the fruit stand -- he got a black eye but got the apple back," Mr. Livingston said yesterday after visiting the corner of Arch and Lexington streets where the stand used to be in the 1920s. "He used to tell us about the old black men who would ride ponies through the alleys selling fruit and he told me how he used to read poetry at Edgar Allan Poe's grave."

In the summer of 1960, just before "My Three Sons" debuted, the family came east to visit relatives and the 10-year-old took his first stroll down the fabled Block.

There, the boy who would be America's Chip Douglas bumped into characters beyond the imagination of Hollywood.

"Compared to Los Angeles, Baltimore was another planet," Mr. Livingston said. "There were still some people left alive that my father knew. One guy named Shimkee that had a haircut just like Moe from the Three Stooges."

It was during that visit that Mr. Livingston saw his first picture of a nude woman when he walked into a store run by an old comic reduced to selling dirty magazines during the decline of burlesque.

Back then, when Mr. Livingston stuck his head in the old Clover Theater, a bouncer barked: "Get that kid out of here!" The building now does business as the Club Miami and when he stuck his head in yesterday, he was asked to stay for the show.

What he saw was a far cry from the mere bump and grind that passed for naughty entertainment in the days of Marilyn Primrose.

"When you grow up like I did, everybody says: 'You're from Hollywood, your parents must be from Hollywood, that must be how you got your start in show business,' " Mr. Livingston said. "But I tell them: 'No, my family's from Baltimore and my father ran a burlesque house.'"

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.