Maryellen Baldwin, Shore 'Queen of Taps'

Maryellen C. Baldwin
Maryellen C. Baldwin
Posted: March 09, 2013

The actress Eleanor Powell wasn't the only "Queen of Taps."

In the 1950s and '60s, when Wildwood's star power lit up summer Shore nights, a raven-haired hoofer also billed as the "Queen of Taps" pattered across the resort's most coveted stages.

While headliners girded themselves for showtime, Maryellen C. Baldwin - then known as Mary Landy - warmed up patrons of such hot spots as Lou Booth's Club 18, Club Avalon, and the Manor Supper Club with full-tilt tapping.

She was known for her fiery rendition of "Hawaiian War Chant," for which the 5-foot-8 beauty donned a flowered red sarong. By the time that Martha Ray, Jimmy Durante, Buddy Hackett, or Rosemary Clooney came on, the crowd was already on its feet.

Mrs. Baldwin died at age 83 on Sunday, March 3, at her Bellmawr home, the result of a series of strokes that over eight years left her partially paralyzed.

Before she fell ill, said daughter-in-law Susan Baldwin, "she didn't know what it was to rest."

Mrs. Baldwin started dancing professionally as a South Philadelphia teen and was still at it as a suburban New Jersey mother in her 40s. But when the East Coast club scene lost its insatiable appetite for variety acts, as low-watt lighting gave way to disco balls, her feet kept moving - on campaign trails.

From the 1970s into the '90s, she threw her energies into Democratic politics in Camden County, working to put Walter Rand and Joseph J. Roberts in the General Assembly; Robert E. Andrews in Congress; and James J. Florio in the governor's seat.

As the Bellmawr municipal chairwoman for the county Democratic committee, she "pounded the pavement" with her grandson, Sean, in tow, said her daughter-in-law. "She organized fund-raisers, and opened her home every election day to feed workers regardless of party. She truly believed she could make a difference."

In Mrs. Baldwin's view, politics was showbiz, to which she was born.

Her father played piano; her aunts were the singing Landy Sisters. Young Maryellen had a regimen of tap and ballet classes, and before she graduated from John W. Hallahan Catholic High School for Girls in 1948, her mother was escorting her to jobs.

Many of the hottest clubs in the mid-Atlantic lay between her South Philly home and her family's summer place in Wildwood. The "Queen of Taps" worked most of them - from Palumbo's, Scioli's, and Sun Ray Gardens in the city to Cinelli's and the Hawaiian Cottage in Cherry Hill, and the 500 Club in Atlantic City.

In Wildwood, she regularly shared the bill with the homegrown comic Cozy Morley and the actor-comedian Mickey Shaughnessy.

Toward the end of her dancing days, Mrs. Baldwin was hoofing at night, raising four children, and holding down day jobs.

She was a Bellmawr police matron, summoned when female suspects needed womanly calming. Her final job, in the Camden County payroll department, lasted 20 years, until her first stroke at 75.

Otherwise, said her son, Timothy, "she would still be going."

Also surviving are daughter Mary Ellen Heller; sons James and Michael; three grandchildren; and a stepgrandson. She was predeceased by her husband, James.

A viewing will be held from 8:15 to 9:45 a.m. Friday, March 8, at Gardner Funeral Home, 126 S. Black Horse Pike, Runnemede. A Funeral Mass will follow at 10:30 at St. Rita of Cascia Parish, Mary, Mother of the Church, 20 Braisington Ave., Bellmawr, with interment in New St. Mary's Cemetery.

Contact Kathleen Tinney at 610-313-8106.

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