Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpIf you marked last year’s 50th anniversary of the “Sound of Music” movie, you laid eyes on a star who grew up in in Arlington.

Nicholas Hammond, who played Friedrich von Trapp, went on to a continuing career in film, TV and stage as an actor, writer and director. Even before he sang in those disciplined formations with Julie Andrews, the child actor had performed in the “Lord of the Flies” film. He would go on as a TV regular in “Gunsmoke,” the late 1970s version of “Spiderman” and “Dallas.”

When I reached him by email at his eight-acre spread in Sydney, Australia, Hammond was happy to recall his formative years attending Arlington’s Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown schools.

“I loved growing up there, in a much simpler time,” he said, recalling homes first on N. 28th Street and then Albemarle. “My brother and I had paper routes” for the Washington Post and the Evening Star. “Your parents thought nothing of kids going off on their bikes pre-dawn and throwing papers onto front-door steps. We’d play ball, or go on our bikes or explore the woods. It all seemed very safe.”

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Hammond’s first theatrical experience was playing a rabbit in “Hansel and Gretel” at a school in Maryland, followed by narrating a Thanksgiving pageant. “My brother and I staged mixed-media performances at our home, which always seemed to end with putting kids in the wheelbarrow and taking them on a thrill ride,” he said.

At Jamestown Elementary School, he performed in “Stuart Little.” (His classmate, Steve Lay, now a consultant in Falls Church, recalls going to Hammond’s home to rehearse and how his friend “Nicky,” as the years went by, would regularly go away to act and then return in a new grade.) At Williamsburg Jr. High, Hammond acted in “The Mouse That Roared.”

An influential teacher Hammond remembers was his sixth-grade instructor “Miss [Lois] Rettie.” She was likely responsible for the warm good-luck card signed by classmates Hammond received when he arrived in Puerto Rico to film “Lord of the Flies,” a 10-week commitment that caused him to miss graduation.

Like any Arlingtonian of the period, Hammond has memories of Robertson’s Five and Dime, Nachman’s bicycle store and “Saturday matinees at the Glebe movie theater, probably where I saw my first movie, `The Wizard of Oz.’ The witch throwing the fireballs was too much for a four-year-old,” he said, “and I ran up the aisle to the lobby where my brother fixed the problem with a grape soda.”

Hammond attended Yorktown High (class of 1967) for a year before transferring to Bethesda’s Landon School, where his father taught. Then at 17 it was off to Princeton and a career in the limelight.

Hammond returns to Arlington once or twice a year. His mother lives near Rock Creek Park and his brother across the Potomac in the Palisades.
The anniversary of “Sound of Music” kept Hammond busy with greetings from old friends and cast mates. “I have done appearances for Twentieth Century Fox and Rodgers and Hammerstein in Hollywood, Salzburg and Sydney,” he said. He paired up with Andrews for a southern hemisphere tour that included showings of home movies his mother took on the set.

“I’m doing a Rogers and Hammerstein concert with the symphony here in June,” he said. “So we’re not done yet.”

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Which of you longtime locals remembers the Twin Bridges Marriott? It stood off the George Washington Parkway at the gate to Crystal City from 1957-1990, the first hotel in what would become the international Marriott lodging empire.

I recall it mostly as the site of my Yorktown High School senior prom, June 1971. But around the country, the landmark goes down as the place where musician Lowell George died of a heroin overdose, June 29, 1979. His band “Little Feat” had just performed at Lisner Auditorium.

When I hear anyone perform George’s song “Willin’,” which came out around the time of my prom, I picture the old Twin Bridges, for baby-boomers an Arlington fixture.

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