Julian Cierkes, 86, reporter, photographer known for `Our Man On The Street' feature

April 28, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Julian Cierkes, who was better known as Bob Denning, roving street reporter and photographer for the old East Baltimore Guide, died Monday of heart failure at Franklin Woods Center Genesis Eldercare. The Rosedale resident was 86.

Bob Denning was Mr. Cierkes' stage name when he was a vaudeville magician during the 1920s and 1930s, and he continued using it until his death.

"Most people never knew his real name, and I have no idea where he got that name," said his daughter, Joanna R. Chelette of Rosedale.

After leaving vaudeville, Mr. Cierkes worked as an upholsterer at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River in the early 1940s, working on the interiors of aircraft. He retired in the early 1960s and, a few years later, became advertising manager of the East Baltimore Guide, now the Baltimore Guide. He retired in 1990.

At the Guide, he began the popular "Our Man On The Street Bob Denning, Inquiring Reporter" feature.

In a suit, crisp white shirt, carefully knotted tie, black fedora with a yellow feather, horn-rimmed glasses and snow-white hair combed straight back, he was highly recognizable in East Baltimore.

With his camera case slung over his shoulder and a Polaroid Land Camera at the ready, he would ask a question and snap pictures of the five people he selected for that week's feature.

"He'd go around to to the American Legion halls, local clubs, bars and markets," said Jackie Watts, editor of the Baltimore Guide. "He'd often do a piece while selling ads."

Mr. Cierkes "was known all over Highlandtown as the man with the camera," said Baltimore Councilman John L. Cain, who represents the 1st District.

Mr. Cierkes would ask such questions as, "If a holdup man accosted you, would you try and resist?" or "Do you Christmas shop in East Baltimore?"

"The questions were never anything controversial or immoral," said "Turkey" Joe Trabert, Baltimore raconteur and former Fells Point saloonkeeper. "And you were a star for a week until the next week's Guide came out the following Thursday."

Born and raised in Fells Point, the son of Polish immigrants who owned a grocery store, Mr. Cierkes attended city schools through the sixth grade.

As a young man, he studied magic and later performed locally with his brother, Vincent Cierkes, better known as "Dantini the Magnificent." Dantini was the house magician at the Peabody Bookshop & Beer Stube on North Charles Street until his death in 1979.

For years, Mr. Cierkes operated Paramount Varieties, a troupe of musicians, dancers and singers who entertained at veterans hospitals and military installations.

"His theme song was `Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,' and he'd perform magic," said Mrs. Chelette. "He was an excellent sleight-of-hand magician, who was still doing magic at the time of his death."

A voracious reader of newspapers and fluent in Polish, Mr. Cierkes often acted as a translator. "During the 1976 visit of the tall ships, he handled all the translation work for the Polish seamen," Mrs. Chelette said.

Mr. Cierkes was a member of the Polish Home, Polish National Alliance and Maryland Boxing Association.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Cierkes is survived by his wife of 65 years, the former Katherine Sobotka; a brother, Joseph Cierkes of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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