Charles A. Lipsey

[ Age 90 ] The pitchman for the Gayety burlesque house also worked carnivals and as a traveling salesman

December 25, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

Charles Alfred Lipsey, a former pitchman for the old Gayety burlesque house and longtime traveling salesman, died of pneumonia Wednesday at Franklin Square Hospital Center. He was 90.

A product of city public schools, Mr. Lipsey grew up and was raised on Central and Lombard streets, and for many years was a fixture on The Block, Baltimore's adult entertainment district.

The son of Gayety owner Charles Hyman Lipsey, he used to entertain the crowd during intermission.

"Hold your seats, you've only seen the first half of the show," Mr. Lipsey recalled from his spiel during a 1994 interview with The Sun about life on The Block and in the theater. "The second act goes on in a few minutes. During that time we will have young men - we gathered them up at Oriole Park - who will wait on you with cold drinks, ice cream, candies, cigarettes and cigars."

During the intermission, Mr. Lipsey would tempt the audience with boxes of candy - each containing a random gift such as a cigarette lighter or fountain pen.

"The common term for them, for the fellows who worked the aisles, was candy butchers. They sold the surprise packages. We had some terrific grosses at the Gayety," Mr. Lipsey told the newspaper.

In 1955, Mr. Lipsey took over as manager of the theater when his father was ill.

It was at the theater that Mr. Lipsey met his wife, Pearl Rahm, a Youngstown, Ohio, native who danced there. When she died in 1996, they had been married for 56 years.

Mr. Lipsey's gift of gab also made him sought-after on the traveling carnival circuit, where he worked for 15 years. He was also an announcer for the 1939 World's Fair in New York City.

Mr. Lipsey's carnival days yielded numerous stories, including a memorable anecdote involving members of the "midget act" assisting him when his truck got a flat tire.

"The midgets weren't too happy when they had to pick up the truck and help him change the tire," said his son, Charles Lipsey Jr. of Middle River.

After touring with the carnival circuit in the eastern states, Mr. Lipsey returned to Baltimore in 1958 and took a job as a traveling salesman with George J. Marshall & Sons, a beach and pool supplies wholesaler. Mr. Lipsey's territory stretched from Maine to Florida, and he worked with the company for 49 years.

"He loved meeting new people all the time," said his son, who is also a traveling salesman. "He loved traveling on the road."

But even on the road, Mr. Lipsey's heart remained in his native city. "He was a Baltimorean through and through," his son said.

Mr. Lipsey's daughter, Sandra Lipsey of Middle River, remembered her father's practical jokes - specifically one that involved her father tinkering with a co-worker's new car - adding gasoline to the tank to make him think it was getting excellent mileage.

"He [the co-worker] was thinking he was getting a hundred miles to the gallon," she said. The next week, though, her father began to remove gasoline from the tank for the reverse effect. "Right before [the co-worker] took the car back to the dealership [my father] told him. [The co-worker] got mad at him, but he didn't have to take the car back. They played practical jokes on each other."

Services were held Saturday.

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Lipsey is survived by another son, Donald Lipsey of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; 13 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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