We see ourselves in the movies

Baltimore Glimpses

November 16, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER and MIKE BOWLER

YOU know it when you see it: the blocked-off streets, the big trucks bumper-to-bumper, lots of men and women technicians sitting around drinking coffee, crowds of people rubber-necking to see the stars or even get into the act as an "extra." Another movie being made in Baltimore.

And it's big business, pumping millions of dollars into the economy.

Among the made-in-Baltimore films in recent years are "Tin Men," with Danny DeVito; "Sleepless in Seattle," with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks; "Serial Mom," with Kathleen Turner; "Guarding Tess," with Shirley MacLaine; "Meteor Man," with Robert Townsend; "Distinguished Gentleman," with Eddie Murphy; and "Accidental Tourist," with William Hurt.

But it's nothing new. Movies have been made here since at least 1940, when 20th Century Fox's "Maryland" was shot in Greenspring Valley.

You would have known all about this had you been at either the New Theater (Lexington and Liberty) or the Centre Theatre (North and Charles) on the night of July 10, 1940. It was a double premiere of the movie, and at each of the movie houses, under the blazing marquees, the crowds jostled, straining to catch a glimpse of the visiting stars -- Fay Bainter (who also appeared in "Our Town" in 1940), Charles Ruggles ("Bringing Up Baby," 1938), Walter Brennan ("The Westerner," 1940, won him an Academy Award) and Tyrone Power ("The Mask of Zorro," 1940). Power wasn't even in "Maryland," but he was here for its launching.

Floodlights pierced the night sky, limousines pulled to the curb, cameras flashed.

Gov. Herbert R. O'Conor, Mayor Howard W. Jackson and Morris A. Mechanic headed up the city's hospitality committee.

But what about the movie? Like a lot of movies made in Baltimore, it did not get rave notices. A Sun review read: "Beautifully photo graphed in color [it was Technicolor], this story of Maryland horse breeding and steeplechasing lacks vigor and credibility, but is redeemed by the fine performances of Brennan and Miss Bainter, and by a Negro prayer-meeting sequence of peerless hilarity."

Here's the story line, as reported in The Sun of July 7, the Sunday before the premiere:

"Miss Bainter's husband is killed while riding to hounds, and she becomes the victim of the fixed idea that she must keep her son away from horses, lest he meet a similar fate. The boy eludes her prohibition with the aid of Brennan, her former breeder, and when he finally rides the winning horse in the Maryland Hunt Club race, she gets over her fixation, and the film ends happily."

The stars, undoubtedly having been warned of Baltimoreans' reputation for rushing visiting celebrities, stayed out of the public view. Only the year before, Mickey Rooney had left the Fifth Regiment Armory nursing a bruised ankle suffered when the fans swooped down on him as he exited a supposedly secret side door. Jean Harlow, when she visited Baltimore just before her death in 1937, had injured a finger when someone tried to snatch her sapphire ring. And Clark Gable, in town for a stage appearance at the Century (he had made "Gone With the Wind" in 1939), had had all the crowd he could handle when he arrived at Penn Station.

But back to "Maryland."

Sun reviewer Donald Kirkley made his way among the crowds who had seen the movie and had this to say: "Scattered comments agree on one thing. It has some noteworthy Maryland scenery in color. And that from a partisan point of view is the thing that matters most."

And still does, doesn't it?

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