Wilbur M. Baron

He and his brother danced as the Baron Twins at Carlin's Park and in 'Best Foot Forward' on Broadway

May 09, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Wilbur Morton Baron, who danced professionally with his identical twin brother and later ran a theatrical curtain business, died of pneumonia April 30 at Northwest Hospital Center. The Pikesville resident was 87.

Part of an act known as the Baron Twins, he and his brother began dancing to help earn money for the family during the Great Depression. A talent scout recruited them for a Broadway show, and they were choreographed by a young Gene Kelly.

Born in Youngstown, Ohio, he was the son of a tailor who moved his family to Baltimore in 1929. His father encouraged his twin sons to dance in a kiddie club troupe that included singer Mary Small and trumpet player Buddy Yaeger. By the summer of 1934, when the Baron twins were 12, they danced at Carlin's Park in the Autumn Follies Revue.

They were cheerleaders at Forest Park High School, where they graduated in 1940. They appeared at the Hippodrome and did a six-minute man-looking-in-mirror routine as part of Uncle Jack's Kiddie Club.

"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," Mr. Baron told a Baltimore Sun reporter in 2007. "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 Nicholas Brothers.

The Barons got their Broadway break in 1941, when director George Abbott cast them in "Best Foot Forward," a musical whose choreographer was Gene Kelly. Its stars were Rosemary Lane, June Allyson and Nancy Walker.

Kelly, who appeared in "Pal Joey," had not gone to Hollywood. "He treated us wonderfully. We stayed with the show until we got drafted," Mr. Baron said in 2007.

In 1942, they entered the Army together and received the same promotions and served together in New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides. They were technicians fourth grade and warehouse workers. At night, they entertained troops.

After the war, they toured in vaudeville and appeared on bandleader Paul Whiteman's television show and ABC's "Super Circus." They also appeared at a charity fundraiser at the Lyric in 1950, where the headliner was strip-teaser Gypsy Rose Lee.

Mr. Baron worked alongside his father at a dry-cleaning and tailoring business, Baron Cleaners and Baron Stage Curtain Co. on East Fayette Street. He also sold shoes in the evening at Wyman's in the Harundale Mall.

"He worked two jobs, sometimes three," said his son, Scott Baron of Baltimore. "He left the house early in the morning and wouldn't be home before 9:30 at night."

The brothers made occasional appearances after 1960. Mr. Baron and his friends recently met on Monday nights at a Pikesville McDonald's, where he danced with his longtime companion, Irene Abarbanel. He also danced with Covenant Guild members to entertain patients at retirement homes.

"My father danced until he had no cartilage left in his hip," his son said.

In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Brent Baron of Pikesville; his twin, William Baron of Pikesville; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Services were held May 3 at Sol Levinson and Bros. The funeral was originally planned for a small chapel; however, a large number of mourners arrived and it had to be moved to the funeral establishment's main auditorium.

"My father would have loved it," his son said. "He loved playing to full houses. He was in his element."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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