As I approach my 50th birthday I often think back to the people who were major influences in my life. My parents, of course. And I'm lucky enough to have had the great influences of my friends' parents. Louis and Marjorie Drinnenberg. Leo and Barbara Castellano. Jim and Jan Gilbert. Mary Gregory. And many more people who took a genuine interest in me and my life and gave me guidance when I needed it. I lost one of those people this week when Merle Bailiff passed away.
I met Merle when I was 23 years old. My first marriage was slowly coming to an end. I was still in the Army and had taken a part time job at a local theatre. Since I had a lot of experience in the business (not only had I worked in movie theatres as a teenager but I had also managed three different military theatres during my enlistment) I often gave the manager a hand with things. My term of enlistment was due to end at the end of July 1984. Not sure what I was going to do I inquired as to whether the company was hiring managers. I was told they were and was directed to an office in Baltimore where I would be interviewed by the district manager. This was Merle. The interview went well and the job paid more then I was making as a soldier. Besides, it would be nice to wear something that wasn't green at work! So begins my adventures in the movie business.
What I want to stress here is that Merle wasn't just my boss. He was my friend and, more importantly, he was someone that I could talk to when I had a problem. Most of the assistant managers in the company were young - 23, 24, 25 years old - and, as young men are wont to do, sometimes we needed a firm talking to. Or maybe someone to listen to us and, if asked, give advice. I don't think it would be an exageration to say that many of us, including me, thought of Merle as a second father.
My fondest memories of Merle take place not inside the theatre but outside it. I would often challange the other theatres in the chain to softball or soccer or football games. Merle was often there impartailly cheering. One time we were playing football and one of the kids asked Merle to line up against him. Merle was a big man, in both size and heart. But without blinking he got on the line and, as if it was something he did everyday, he got down in a stance. When the ball was hiked he knocked this kid on his ass!
One of the theatres I managed was in a shopping center near Merle's house. In the shopping center there was a very nice restaurant that Merle frequented. When the kitchen closed the place stayed open until 3 a.m. as a popular watering hole. Often times on Saturday night I'd lock the doors and walk down the sidewalk to the place. To me it was almost like "Cheers" because it's the only place I've every frequented regularly where the bartender not only "knew my name" but what I drank. We would sit around a table and talk about whatever popped into our heads. The theatre. The Orioles. The fact that if you played the video poker machine, and the owner knew you, it would pay off. Away from the business atmosphere Merle would entertain us with stories from his past. And just when you thought the night was going to be a joke fest he'd give you "the look." Merle had the kind of gaze that MADE a person confess his sins. He may have heard something from another manager. For example, let's say that after work one night a bunch of us had gone to Little Italy, had a very late dinner and then, on a whim, invited the entire restaurant back to the theatre to watch "Beverly Hills Cop." All Merle had to do was fix you with that look, ask "so, how was dinner the other night" and let the confessions begin! But no matter the sin, forgiveness was just a nod away.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, Merle was a great influcence on me. I will miss him terribly.
Mikes Record Shelf is closed this weekend. See you next week!
Well, that's all for now. Have a great week and cross your fingers for the Cubs! See ya!
"Mike's Rant" is ©2010 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.