William Baron (right) pictured with his twin brother Wilbur
William M. Baron, who tap-danced in a Broadway show with his identical twin brother and later ran a hat business, died of kidney failure Dec. 29 at Season's Hospice at Northwest Hospital Center. The Pikesville resident was 88.
Mr. Baron, who appeared with his identical twin brother Wilbur, got a break when a talent scout recommended them for a Broadway musical comedy, "Best Foot Forward." Director George Abbott cast them in the show choreographed by dancer Gene Kelly. The brothers appeared at the Ethel Barrymore Theater alongside stars Rosemary Lane, June Allyson and Nancy Walker in the 1941-1942 season.
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. They took lessons and appeared on the stage of the Hippodrome when they were 8. 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. By that time, they had perfected a six-minute man-looking-in-the-mirror routine. They made the dance routine their signature and repeated it for years.
"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," his brother Wilbur, who died last year, 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.' "
In 1942, the twins enlisted in the Army 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 stripteaser Gypsy Rose Lee.
After their marriages, the twins lived near each other in Northwest Baltimore. Each went into a different business. Wilbur, who died in April, co-owned a theatrical stage curtain business. William Baron joined his father-in-law, Samuel Epstein, in his wholesale business, Park Royal Hat Co., on West Baltimore Street.
"He sold every kind of headwear," said his wife of 57 years, the former Celeste Epstein.
Mr. Baron shipped Western hats, fedoras, baseball and golf caps, knit headgear and women's hats for church to small department and variety stores.
"Baltimore was a city known for making straw hats and was the world's largest supplier and maker of such items during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s," he wrote in a Sun letter in 1993. "During that period, it was befitting for a man never to be without a hat or cap while outside. In fact, Baltimore is still on the map for the headwear industry nationally. … If you do not wear a hat or cap, you can catch a cold. So for health sake, wear a hat."
Mr. Baron remained active in the family-owned hat business until three years ago and worked alongside his two sons and a grandson. He was a figure skater at the Meadowbrook ice rink. He also swam.
The brothers made occasional appearances after 1960.
"They would come to family functions, bar mitzvahs, and do their mirror dance," said his son, Stuart Baron of Baltimore. "They would arrive separately but would consistently have on the same suit, tie and shirt."
"They were inseparable. They were close, loving brothers," said his wife.
When the Hippodrome reopened in 2004, the Baron brothers were honored and appeared in a film about the theater's history and rebirth. They put on their tuxedos and walked down a red carpet.
Graveside services were held Dec. 31 at Arlington Cemetery — Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include another son, Brian Baron of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.