Arlene Kozak, 72

Assistant to dance show host Buddy Deane inspired role in `Hairspray'

March 15, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Arlene Kozak, who had been a key production assistant to television dance show host Buddy Deane and later helped operate a travel agency, died Tuesday of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Idlewylde resident was 72.

Born Arlene Sarah DiDonato in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown, she attended St. James the Less Parochial School and was a 1953 graduate of Seton High School.

She went into the music business and worked at General Vending Sales, where she bought and recommended records for play on jukeboxes.

In 1957, she became an assistant on Mr. Deane's show when she was a few years older than the teenagers who appeared on it.

When Mr. Deane died in 2003, Mrs. Kozak described him as a quiet man who never became "one of the kids" and recalled him as a father figure.

"I would like to think that we did a lot of good for the teenagers at that time," Mrs. Kozak said. "They dressed very well."

Mrs. Kozak ran auditions for The Committee, the rotating group of teens who led dances on the show and appeared at Mr. Deane's record hops.

"A slot on The Committee didn't come with a paycheck but gave its members access to the ultimate `in' crowd. They became local celebrities and have remained close over the years," a 1997 Sun article said. Mrs. Kozak later organized reunions of the committee.

Another 1997 Sun article described Mrs. Kozak as Mr. Deane's "dependable first sergeant on the set."

"To qualify, first you needed a solid command of the day's dances - the pony, Madison, jitterbug, bop, cha-cha, the stroll, the twist - and there was even a `cool' style for slow dancing. Committee members had to look sharp, have a style and be willing to appear on weekends for Deane's dances from Westminster to Salisbury. If you made the short list, you were required to bring in a letter of reference from your parish priest, minister, rabbi or a teacher," the article said.

"Management, Arlene and Buddy sat down together and made the kids adhere to the rules," said her husband of 47 years, Joseph Kozak.

After the show ended in 1964, Mrs. Kozak did advertising work for R. H. Donnelly Co. and later ran a travel agency with her husband.

Filmmaker John Waters consulted her for his film Hairspray and cast Mink Stole to play her. In the coming film version of the musical comedy, Mrs. Kozak will be played by Michelle Pfeiffer.

"She was the den mother to all the Buddy Deaners," Mr. Waters said yesterday in New York. "She ruled with a loving iron fist."

Services will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Johnson Funeral Home, 8521 Loch Raven Blvd.

Survivors also include two sons, Mark Kozak of Havre de Grace and Anthony Kozak of Parkville; and six grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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