'Hustler' Able's Dual Resumes Include Plenty Of Film Credits

Crime Beat

April 23, 2009|By Peter Hermann

In the church bulletin celebrating his 63 years of life handed out at his funeral on Wednesday, Harold Lee Able Sr. is affectionately called a "hustler at heart."

He died April 15 like too many others in Baltimore - by homicide. He was shot in the head while sitting in a car in East Baltimore, and police said they believe he was working as an unlicensed cabdriver, a "hack," scraping up a few dollars here and there delivering people who can't afford taxis in the city.

Harold Lee Able Sr. was hustling.

But he hustled himself into an interesting life with dual resumes.

One was typical Baltimore: He was born in the city, one of 14 children, a product of public schools, a former shipyard worker. He drove a taxi, ran The Hat Man store on North Avenue and trained boxers.

He coached his church basketball team and ran for City Council in 1967, drawn to the politics of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party.

The other was atypical Baltimore: He was an actor.

He hunted for and got parts as a "featured extra," collecting as little as $60 for eight hours' work. He often played people much like a hustler - a longshoreman named Moonshot on HBO's The Wire and an addict who arranged scams to sell scrap metal and beat an insurance company out of money in The Corner.

Able's credits are long and impressive, including appearances in numerous commercials and HBO miniseries, a juror on Law & Order Criminal Intent, Third Watch, City of Angels, Ladder 49 (John Travolta), Head of State (Chris Rock), Ocean's 11 (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, etc.), Sentinel (Michael Douglas), Inside Man (Denzel Washington), and The Visiting (Nicole Kidman).

"He had a character-driven face," recalled Pat Moran, a casting director in Baltimore who kept Able's name at the front of her calling list. He had "avails," she said, Hollywood parlance for always available.

"You could make him a working man or you could make him a bad guy. He was just a guy who liked the business, and the more he did it, the more he liked it."

Mourners packed the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in West Baltimore for Able's funeral and passed out a three-page obituary highlighting his many accomplishments.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Elizabeth Bernitha Able, and two children, Harold Jr. and Joribah. No arrests have been made in the shooting.

News of his death traveled fast to Westminster and to the cast and crew of a just-completed movie, The Sins of the Fathers, about a woman who moves to a new town seeking a simple life but is drawn to a mysterious house and a story of a mother who killed her children. Able played Geobee, a gas station owner and town know-it-all.

At first, production coordinator Heidi Fisher said, Able had few speaking parts but that changed after they watched him act and decided to use him more.

Able missed the premiere two months ago - and the movie's showing at a film festival in New York - about the time it appears he ran into trouble at home. His wife obtained a domestic abuse restraining order against him, according to court records, which was being appealed.

His co-workers remember Able as an easygoing guy who regaled them with stories of big-time films he was in and stars he had met.

"It will be sad to think he's not going to be able to see the finished product," Fisher told me of his latest endeavor, "and that he had a short life."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this column.

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