Barry Levinson: Baltimore’s Hollywood Star

By:  James Chiusano

“So he’s Baltimore’s big time Hollywood success story,” an article in the City Paper stated.[1]  Barry Levinson hears this phrase all too often.

Levinson was born in April of 1942 in Baltimore, Maryland.  After attending Forest Park Senior High School, Levinson attended American University in Washington, D.C.  Levinson then moved to Los Angeles where he began to act and put on comedy routines. [2]

Levinson, known in the film industry as “director who blends literate and intelligent visions into films, set several of his features in Baltimore, MD:  “Diner,” Levinson’s directorial debut, a comedy/drama that garnered great interest; “Tin Men,” starring Danny Devito; “Avalon,” a movie in which Baltimore is featured prominently; and “Liberty Heights,” a drama that exemplifies the change occurring in Baltimore around 1954. [3]

Levinson also directed over twenty films that were not based in Baltimore.  These movies include Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain Man, for which Levinson won the Academy Award for Best Director.

Levinson returned to Baltimore in the early 90’s to film the television series Homocide:  Life on the Street.  This series received a great deal of acclaim, earning Levinson an Emmy for Best Individual Director of a Drama Series, three Peabody Awards, two Writers Guild Awards, and an Excellence in Quality Television Founders Award.

Although I could go on for days speaking about Levinson’s achievements and the movies that he has directed, Levinson continues to claim the studios told him for many of his films that he would make no money at all on them.  “Look, most of the movies that I have done have scared the studio—or if not scared them, they were questioning whether or not the movie could make any money at all.”  Levinson’s list of projected “flounders” includes Diner, The Natural, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Rain Man.  I would venture to say that almost every American recognizes at least three of those films.  This epitomizes the type of “thick skin” that a filmmaker must wear.  No matter what people think, a filmmaker must have confidence in his/her ideas, giving the film a chance to succeed. [4]

As filmmakers gain more and more experience with each film, many people wonder if the process becomes easier and more second nature.  Contrary to what many may believe, Levinson states that it actually may get a little bit more difficult.  “Oh, no. Nothing’s gotten better. (laughs) It just gets to be more difficult,” Levinson proclaimed.  He went on to say that he directs films because of the excitement that it entails and because he wants people to see his films.  Even though it is very difficult for him sometimes, he still loves filmmaking. [5]

Levinson, with all of his acclaim and credentials, sometimes still has trouble getting his work seen:  “…like many filmmakers these days, he faces the occasional tough time getting his work seen,” City Paper reporter Lee Gardner stated.  This exemplifies how difficult of a business filmmaking is.  So many different people are creating films and so few films are getting shown in theaters. [6]

Levinson currently lives in Redding, Connecticut with his two sons, Jack and Patrick.  He is a minority owner of the Baltimore Orioles and continually makes visits back to the Charm City.  He continues to follow his passion for directing films.

[1] Lee Gardner, City Paper,“Barry Levinson,” 7 Dec. 2011.  http://citypaper.com/news/barry-levinson-1.1241535

[2] “Barry Levinson Biography,” http://www.levinson.com/index_bl.htm.

[3] Lee Gardner, City Paper,”Barry Levinson,” 7 Dec. 2011.  http://citypaper.com/news/barry-levinson-1.1241535

[4] Lee Gardner, City Paper,”Barry Levinson,” 7 Dec. 2011.  http://citypaper.com/news/barry-levinson-1.1241535

[5] Lee Gardner, City Paper,”Barry Levinson,” 7 Dec. 2011.  http://citypaper.com/news/barry-levinson-1.1241535

[6] Lee Gardner, City Paper,”Barry Levinson,” 7 Dec. 2011.  http://citypaper.com/news/barry-levinson-1.1241535

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