Barney Cohen, character actor, dies

He appeared in the film 'Diner' and in local theater productions

  • Barney Cohen
Barney Cohen
November 30, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Barney Cohen, a veteran Baltimore character actor whose work spanned local theaters and film, died Nov. 17 of pneumonia at Northwest Hospital Center. He was 93.

Mr. Cohen was born in New York City and raised in Queens. He graduated in 1935 from Lincoln High School, where he had played varsity football.

At New York University, where he earned a degree in 1939 in business, he continued playing football as a guard.

With the coming of World War II, he enlisted in the Army and served as a military policeman at Los Alamos, N.M., where much of the work developing and testing the atomic bomb took place.

At the end of the war, he returned to New York and went to work for TASCO — Telephone Answering Service Co. — where he rose to become a vice president. He retired in 1970.

After the birth of his autistic son, Mitchell Cohen, Mr. Cohen moved to Baltimore in the early 1950s to be near doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who were beginning to work in the field of autism.

His son died in 2002.

Mr. Cohen began performing in local theaters in Baltimore in the early 1960s, appearing in productions at Center Stage, Spotlighters and Everyman Theatre.

Mr. Cohen's work came to the attention of director Barry Levinson, who cast him as Knocko, the proprietor of the legendary pool hall at Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Boulevard, in his 1982 movie "Diner."

He later had cameo roles in "Homicide: Life on the Street." In 1991, he performed at the Fells Point Cabaret Theater in "Bernie's Bar Mitzvah," which later moved to an Off-Broadway theater in New York.

He performed for years in fundraising reviews for the Jewish Community Center in Pikesville.

Mr. Cohen, who stopped acting several years ago, had been a longtime member and captain of the Magnificent Seven, a racquetball team made up of seniors who were in their 70s and 80s and played five times a week at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center.

Mr. Cohen, who had survived several bouts of cancer, retired from the racquetball court when he turned 88.

His wife of 36 years, the former Etta Kamenitsky, died in 1980.

The former Northwest Baltimore resident had lived at the Envoy of Pikesville nursing home for the past three years.

"He loved life, Baltimore, theater and me. A special guy," said Selma Noon-Fritz, a retired legal secretary who was his companion of 12 years.

Services were Nov. 21.

Also surviving are a daughter, Shelley Cohen of Woodstock; a brother, Ben Cohen of New York City; a sister, Estelle Wittman of New York City; two granddaughters; and a great-grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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