The Baron Twins


October 27, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen

William Baron and Wilbur Baron -- who were billed as the tap-dancing Baron Twins -- were 8-year-olds when they first glided across the Hippodrome Theatre stage performing their signature six-minute mirror dance in 1930.

Now 85, and inseparable as ever, they live around the corner from each other in Pikesville.

"We have our aches and pains, but we see each other and socialize as often as possible," said Wilbur, who quickly points out his twin is "10 minutes older than me."

They were born in Youngstown, Ohio, the sons of a tailor who later moved his family to Baltimore. The twins, who began tap-dancing as children, grew up on Oswego Avenue and Taney Road, and graduated from Forest Park High School in 1940.

"Our father was always interested in getting us into show business. So he made an appointment for us to see Al Jolson, who was making a personal appearance in Baltimore. That was in 1932," Wilbur said. "We went to Kernan's Hotel, and when my father asked Jolson how to get us in the business, he said, `Take 'em where they manufacture it -- L.A. or New York.'"

They studied with Ella Banks in Baltimore and later in New York, with Henry LeTang, whose students included the famous Nicholas Brothers.

The Barons got their Broadway break in 1940, when legendary director George Abbott cast them in Best Foot Forward, a musical whose choreographer was Gene Kelly. Its stars were June Allyson and Nancy Walker.

"Gene Kelly was unknown then, and he treated us wonderfully. We stayed with the show until we got drafted," Wilbur said.

He and his brother were allowed to serve in the Army together and were sent to the South Pacific where they worked as warehousemen by day and entertained troops at night.

After the war, they toured during the dying days of vaudeville and appeared on bandleader Paul Whiteman's television show in the 1950s.

They continued playing club dates and hotels in Baltimore and Washington until retiring when they turned 80. Wilbur has spinal stenosis, while his brother continues to recover from recent major surgery.

"Ah, we still get the itch, and can still do a little shim-sham to `Bye Bye Blues,'" Wilbur said.

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