Frank Bruno

Barber cut the hair of both the lowly and the famous and owned three shops in and around Towson

April 30, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Frank Bruno, a barber who was sought by both stars and sinners, died of cancer Thursday at Oak Crest Village's nursing center. He was 87 and lived in Rosedale.

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Sicilian immigrants who operated a grocery store on the eastern fringes of downtown Baltimore. He grew up along the shops of Gay Street in Oldtown and never completed high school. He told his daughters that as a child he sold flowers on East Baltimore Street, known as the Block.

"He started out as a nothing kid," said his daughter, Toni Kocun of Towson. "He made it all on his own."

As a teenager, he began cutting hair in a three-chair shop owned by barber Joe Brazill near the Block. He recalled its lively character before, during and after World War II, when the street seemed to stay alive 24 hours a day.

In a 2000 article in the Valley Times, he recalled a customer he knew as Reds who dashed into the shop one day. He told Mr. Bruno to tilt the barber chair back, comb the hair over his forehead and lather his whole face with shaving cream.

"I noticed he had a 45-caliber gun sticking out of his belt," Mr. Bruno said in the article. "I did what he told me, then trimmed his hair until he was ready to leave about an hour later."

Mr. Bruno went on to recall that the customer named Reds wasn't out the door five minutes before he heard gunshots on the corner.

"I never saw him again after that," he said. "To this day, I don't know what happened to him."

Mr. Bruno went on to own his own shops, including one on Harford Road just above North Avenue, where he cut the hair of the father of attorney Peter G. Angelos, who owns the Orioles.

He moved on to Towson and had a shop in the basement of the old Shell Oil building on Joppa Road.

In 1959, he opened a seven-chair shop in the then-new Towson Plaza Shopping Center, now Towsontown Center. He cut both men's and women's hair and opened another shop in the old Eudowood Plaza in 1962. In 1980, he branched out a third time, at Kenilworth Mall.

With his shops spread all over the Towson landscape, Mr. Bruno recalled that he had cut the hair of numerous notables, including developers Henry Knott and Nick Mangione, TV news anchor Jerry Turner, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson and television personality George Baumann.

In his days downtown near The Block, he trimmed the hair of its reputed crime king, Julius "The Lord" Salisbury.

He also had a wide following among sports figures, including Orioles Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer and Rick Dempsey and Colts Bert Jones, Don Shula, Johnny Unitas and Gino Marchetti. At his peak, he employed nearly 30 barbers. His wife, the former Amy Brannock, did his accounting and kept a ledger book.

In 2000, he had a stroke and stopped working.

"That stopped the things he loved, talking and cutting hair," said his daughter. "People told him lots of their stories. He was a good listener, too. He loved people. He was also proud of his barbers and demanded they give a good haircut."

In his free time, Mr. Bruno liked to dance on weekends and belonged to a group called the Shaggers.

A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Oak Crest Village Chapel, 8801 Walther Blvd.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his two other daughters, Joann Gately and Maria DiNatale, both of Forest Hill; three sisters, Frances Parenti of Pasadena, Lena Willingham of Towson and Rose Nathowitch of Dundalk; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. His wife of 55 years died in 1993.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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