Remembering Brent Gunts, Baltimore's Mr. Television

March 06, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

THIS WEEK at the Church of the Redeemer, I listened to the eulogies for Brent Gunts, the man who was Baltimore's Mr. Television during my youth.

A little guy with a crewcut who wore snappy sport coats and bow ties, he came on the air, at least as I remember it, at 1 p.m., just after lunch Monday through Fridays, always on WBAL, the local TV station just down the street at 26th and Charles streets.

His colleague and friend, Sydney King, mentioned how delightful local broadcasting was then, say 50 years ago. The national networks were always there, but hometown intimacy had our hearts.

Brent was a big believer in local programming and he gave it his best. Was it corny? Yes. Was it watchable? Amen!

For so many afternoons I would tune in to watch a screenful of happy audience members out for their day before the cameras. Brent and his sidekick, Jay Grayson, ran Quiz Club. I can still recall a phase from the show's opening song, "Hurry, Mary, get the dictionary!"

The show's female contestants, and the occasional lone gent, were real Baltimore people, coached and coaxed by Brent and Jay. It was a bouncy, breezy format, with none of the tremulous organ music of the soap operas that would appear later in the afternoon.

Brent's ebullient personality carried the show. It was all about fun, maybe an extended parlor game, like a Saturday night when you had friends over for some homemade entertainment.

The prizes were donated by local merchants and industries: Goetze's hams, Goetze's caramel creams, Baltimore Gas and Electric cookbooks, Leon Levi jewelry, Lady Baltimore weekender bags, and Stieff silver salt and pepper shakers. It was pretty tame stuff, nothing to make you a millionaire. There may have been the occasional $10 gift certificate redeemable at the Lexington Market.

One spring afternoon at school our teacher, Sister Stephanie Hanley, announced we were to exit our desks and go immediately to the assembly room to watch Quiz Club. The Visitation Academy Mother's Club was booked.

I watched my mother, Stewart Kelly, in her mink stole, spring hat and gloves, tear through the answers and deduce the mystery name, Jacqueline Kennedy, based upon her replies to question-clues whose answers included the Caroline Islands and Bouvier des Flandres dogs.

Sister Mary Maurice, who could have been the host of a quiz show herself, went wild and let out with a hearty line, "Stewart's swept the show."

Indeed she did. Then Brent Gunts handed her a McCormick spice shelf as her prize, along with the satisfaction of reigning over mid-afternoon Baltimore television.

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