Constance Mueller, 95, Charleston champion, played piano, ukulele

April 05, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Constance Mueller, who was crowned a Charleston dance champion in the 1920s and retained her zest for life, died Sunday of respiratory failure at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 95 years old and lived in North Baltimore.

"She was cross between Texas Guinan and Scarlett O'Hara," said her daughter Constance McDonnell, referring to the 1920s nightclub owner and the "Gone With the Wind" heroine.

Born in Dawson, Ga., Constance Harrell grew up in a succession of Southern cities with her parents, who ran hotels and restaurants. She attended Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., in the early 1920s and later told family members she had majored in "good times."

While a young woman, she dated a fellow Georgian -- the portly comedian Oliver Hardy -- who went on to Hollywood and a film career.

She was an accomplished dancer and was crowned the Charleston champion of North Florida in the mid-1920s. Accompanied by a pet greyhound perched on her Cadillac's running board, she would drive on the sand of Daytona Beach.

She arrived in Baltimore in 1930, about the time of her marriage to trumpet player Charles Mueller, who played for the Baltimore and National symphony orchestras, as well as in the pit band at the Century Theatre on Lexington Street. Mr. Mueller died in 1978.

The couple purchased a new Ellerslie Avenue home in Ednor Gardens, but soon fell victim to the Depression. A theatrical musicians' strike caused them to lose the house. They soon rebounded economically.

"I can remember my parents worked very hard," said Mrs. McDonnell, who lives in Baltimore. "My father would play three times in one night -- first at the Century, then he'd play in Washington and get home for the last show at the Gayety on Baltimore Street. She'd pick him up at the stage entrance."

During World War II, Mrs. Mueller maintained a Victory Garden near her Windsor Hills home. She also saved scrap metal and oil for the war effort.

In the 1950s she embraced sports. A vocal and enthusiastic Baltimore Colts fan, she was proud that she had gotten tickets and taken the train to New York for the famous Dec. 28, 1958, sudden-death game with the New York Giants that brought Baltimore the championship. She enjoyed socializing with Colts players of that era.

She and her husband bought a thoroughbred named Ante Maker and watched him race on the Maryland, West Virginia and New Jersey circuit.

Because she had eaten so many meals in her parents' hotel restaurants, she vowed to make her own table a place of good, home-cooked foods.

"My mother believed in saturated fats -- and she smoked until she was 85, when she stopped cold," her daughter said.

She was a gifted piano player -- in the 1920s, she also strummed the ukulele -- and entertained family and friends with her signature tune, "How Deep Is the Ocean."

Throughout her 70s and 80s she fished in a rowboat on Leeds Creek near Tunis Mills and was never happier than when she was in the outdoors.

Until a year ago, she kept up with politics and watched C-SPAN and political talk shows.

Funeral services were held yesterday at Moreland Memorial Park.

She is survived by another daughter, Georgia Lee Bright of Baltimore; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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