Julius `Trucky' Halpren, 78, master of ceremonies at old Pimlico Hotel

November 03, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Julius "Trucky" Halpren, who for years was the popular master of ceremonies of Monday Amateur Night at the Pimlico Hotel and later restaurant, died Sunday of cardiac arrest at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore. He was 78.

For years, Mr. Halpren's venue was the smoky and boisterous Cavalier Lounge of the now-demolished Pimlico Hotel in the 5300 block of Park Heights Ave. On Monday evenings, he would welcome a regiment of amateur musicians, singers, comedians and magicians.

Dressed in a light blue tuxedo and swathed in the glow of spotlights, Mr. Halpren would bellow to his audience, "That's Trucky with a T and a Y."

It was a name that dated to the 1930s and 1940s, when he swayed and "trucked" to big-band rhythms, and it stuck for the remainder of his life.

He was also known as the "King of the Tummlers," a Yiddish word that is pronounced "TOOM-ler," and means one who creates a lot of noise, a live wire, clown, prankster or, in other words, the life of the party.

Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, said Tummler also refers to the "paid social director and entertainer in those Catskill resorts that constitute `the Borscht Belt.'"

"That's Trucky," The Sun said in a 1984 article. "Part-descendant of the Borscht Belt, part-Ted Mack, part-court jester, part-cockamamie uncle to a kind of extended family of show biz dreamers."

Mr. Halpren's ascension to master of ceremonies occurred on a rainy Monday evening in 1973, when he and several other Pimlico Hotel regulars were sitting around the Cavalier Lounge. It was a slow night, and suddenly they began challenging each other to get up on the stage and perform.

From a table somewhere in the semi-darkness, Mr. Halpren yelled, "You want to hear somebody sing, then you sing."

It was the beginning of the Monday night show, which began promptly at 10 p.m. and wrapped up sometime in the early morning hours.

Judges selected the evening's best acts, which often ranged from the Bernie and Irma Dance Team to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett imitators. The top performer went home with a television donated by Luskin's, while runners-up won $50 gift certificates.

Between acts, Mr. Halpren kept his audience stoked up with an endless stream of one-liners worthy of Henny Youngman or Don Rickles, such as:

"The waiter asked me if he could get me anything, and I said, `Yeah, a 24-year-old girl.'"

"I get paid for making a schmuck out of myself. Your wife's so fat she leaves stretch marks on the car. Someone threw an ice cube at me. Real high class, real high class ... kaboom."

When the Pimlico closed in 1984 and moved to the 1700 block of Reisterstown Road, Mr. Halpren and amateur night followed. He continued packing the restaurant with hopeful entertainers until it closed in 1991.

"He was just a flat-out classic," said Marty Bass, WJZ-TV personality and longtime friend. "He understood how to go through life and how to create smiles. He had a great comedic pause when working, and that pause was everything. He was something else."

"He was very glib and a lot like Jackie Leonard," said Royal Parker, retired Baltimore radio personality and boyhood friend. "It was a real compliment being put down by him."

A longtime resident of The Elmont on Park Heights Avenue, Mr. Halpren was born and raised in Westport and graduated from City College. During World War II, he was an Army military policeman and served in Africa.

From 1939 to 1969, he owned and operated the Silver Dollar Bar & Cafe on Freemont Avenue at Laurens Street., which was spared during the 1968 riots.

"The word went out that the Silver Dollar wasn't to be touched because he had been good to the neighbors," said his son, Howard Halpren of Owings Mills. "He bought shoes for children, rewarded them for good report cards and tried to find jobs for those in need."

During the 1970s, Mr. Halpren was the proprietor of Trucky's Discount Liquors on Reisterstown Road, and for the past 22 years until his death he was a pretrial release investigator for the Baltimore City Detention Center.

"He was always trying to find jobs for people who were out of jail," Howard Halpren said. "He had a big heart and believed people deserved a second chance. He used to joke, `Hey, the guy is good at sales. He sold everything he stole.'"

Mr. Halpren was a member of Beth Jacob Congregation.

Services were held Tuesday.

Other survivors include his wife of 44 years, the former Miriam Owrutsky; two daughters, Eileen Rothouse of Owings Mills and Sheila Silverstein of Pikesville; a sister, Shirley Gambel of Pikesville; and three grandsons.

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