By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Despite his success as a Hollywood film and TV director, Brooklyn native Allen Baron came from humble beginnings. In his recent memoir “Blast of Silence,” published this past July by Parker Publishing, Baron tells all, chronicling his convoluted path to launching a decades-long career in the film industry and revealing his passionate and opinionated take on 20th century Hollywood. “If it was hard to make a connection between the East New York section of Brooklyn where I had been born and this place,” he writes, recalling his experience at the 1965 Academy Awards Governors Ball, “it was almost impossible to see a link between my poverty-stricken years wearing hand-me-down clothes, living among smelly trash cans, nickel and dime stealing, and this glamorous setting.” Replete with a range of photographs depicting his toddler years through his years a director, “Blast of Silence” is a deeply confessional account of Baron’s fascinating life, which began right here in Brooklyn.
Born in East New York, Baron grew up in poverty during the Great Depression. His parents were Polish and Russian immigrants who spoke English with a thick accent and interspersed with Yiddish words. Baron recalls that most of his friends also had foreign-born parents, and that “The kids at Public School 202 would only associate with their ethnic groups.” He lived on Logan Street and then on Sutter Avenue.
Baron’s father passed away when he was just 11 years old; he writes, “My last memory of my father was when I was 11 and I recall looking at this belt buckle as he said, ‘Have a good time’ as I was leaving for Coney Island with my sisters Trudy and Min.” After his father’s death, Baron moved briefly to Lewiston, Maine, for a few months, and then returned to Brooklyn to live with his mother on New Lots Avenue.
The day he turned 16, Baron dropped out of high school. He recalls being “weary of child welfare investigators coming to the apartment and constantly spying,” so he resolved to work and started a job with the War Department, unknowingly working on the atomic bomb. The following year, Baron joined the Navy during World War II.
At age 19, Baron enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York to study illustration. For several years he worked odd jobs, drawing for comic book publishers and driving a taxi. When he was 25, Baron took his first acting class, where he met his wife. He began filming the cult classic film “Blast of Silence” in 1959. The movie earned rave reviews from major newspapers and decades later, in 2006, it was released by Cine Classic, and then by Criterion on 2008.
The 77-minute film is shot in black and white and portrays a veteran hit man, played by Baron. The New York Times in 2008 published an article stating, “But for all its pulp poetry – the picture begins in a railroad tunnel, transformed by the narration into a birth canal that will blast the silently screaming Frankie in the harsh reality of Penn Station – the film retains a down-and-gritty, documentary aspect. The studiously overcast, gray, unglamorous views of 1961 Manhattan […] are worth the price of admission alone.”
Following the success of his first film, Baron went on to write, produce, and direct for 20th Centruy Fox, Warner Bros., Allied Artists, Universal and CBS. He has directed 250+ television episodes for numerous hit shows, including “Charlie’s Angels,” “Fantasy Island,” “Love Boat,” “The Brady Bunch,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “MASH,” and many others. He went on to create three more feature films: “Pie in the Sky,” “Red, White, and Busted,” and “Foxfire Light.”
Now in his mid-80s, Baron continues to live a creative life. He resides in Beverly Hills, California, where he paints daily. And although he has settled on the West Coast, Baron’s memoir makes clear that his Brooklyn upbringing shaped him and that he will always hold dear his childhood memories.