Actor Mark Baker dies at 71

Mark Baker

CUMBERLAND — Mark F. Baker, 71, a city native, acclaimed actor of stage and screen and founder of the Embassy Theatre project, died Monday.

Best known for the title role in Harold Prince's revival of "Candide," a performance for which he received a Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination, he also earned praise for his portrayal of Otto Kringelein in the international tour of the musical "Grand Hotel," which was performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. He won a Helen Hayes Award for his Kennedy Center performance. He also appeared in other Broadway productions, numerous movies and television shows, such as "St. Elsewhere," during his lengthy entertainment career.

He appeared in the romantic adventure film "Swashbuckler" in 1976 and, the following year, supplied the voice acting for Raggedy Andy in the animated film "Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure." He served as assistant director to Ken Russell in the 1977 film, "Valentino."

Born in Cumberland on Oct. 2, 1946, he was the son of the late Francis Tweedie and Aretta Sue Swayne. A graduate of Allegany High School, Baker attended Carnegie Mellon University and Wittenberg University. He trained for the stage at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City.

Baker had perhaps his greatest impact locally through the renovation and operation of the Embassy. Originally built and run as a movie house at 49 Baltimore St. in 1931, the Embassy Theatre, of classic Art Deco design, served as Warhaft's Draperies after the theater closed. Baker's stepfather, Al Warhaft, operated the business and following his death, Baker and his mother decided to bring the theater back as a multipurpose performing arts space. Much of the theater was still intact above what had been used as retail space, including ornate plaster work. The original front entry doors were found on the property, reconditioned and reinstalled. Other improvements were made as funding became available.

First called the New Embassy Theatre, it operated under that name until 2014, when it was remodeled and referred to as the Embassy Theatre. The nonprofit organization has staged live performances of classic fare such as Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera" and Kander and Ebb's "Cabaret," as well as lesser-known work such as "The Mystery of Irma Vep" and "The Lady In Question," original works and local historical plays.

Other entertainment presented included movies, musical concerts, drag shows and other special events. Baker guided the theater with the help of Jerard Puckett and others, sometimes appearing on stage himself. He performed "Tru," a one-man show adapted from the words and works of the late Truman Capote, and portrayed Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." 

He maintained a home in Cumberland and an apartment in Manhattan. Baker performed at the Cumberland Theatre and returned to act in several plays at Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, where he had started his career.

The Adams Family Funeral Home, P.A., is in charge of arrangements.

CUMBERLAND TIMES-NEWS, ctn@times-news.com

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