As mentioned in a previous blog post, one of my favorite Baltimoreans is Helen Delich Bentley. Bentley was a politician, journalist, and most importantly to me, a big fan of industry and television: she was a broadcasting pioneer, having produced and hosted the 1950s-1960s local maritime news program, “The Port That Built a City and State”. To close out 2023’s Women’s History Month, I wanted to focus in on Helen Delich Bentley and her contributions to moving image production and cultural heritage in the Mid-Atlantic.
Helen Delich grew up in Nevada in the 1920s and 1930s, the daughter of Serbian immigrants, her father a miner. She earned a scholarship to study journalism at the University of Missouri, and was a reporter and editor for The Baltimore Sun from 1945 to 1969 where she was assigned to cover labor news, in particular the Port of Baltimore. While she had grown up in a landlocked state and didn’t know much about ships, her blue-collar industrial upbringing helped her to hold her own at the port. According to a New York Times obituary from 2016, when a dockworker made a comment about her nose in 1954, she punched him in the face.
Delich Bentley pitched to and convinced WMAR on an entire television show about the port when TV was just starting out–WMAR, Baltimore’s first television station to broadcast in 1947, was only three years old when Bentley started to host “The Port that Built a City and State”. And that program ran for 15 years, until 1965. The entire Port of Baltimore was named in Helen Delich Bentley’s honor in 2006, on the 300th anniversary of the port’s opening. Bentley, a Republican, then served in the House of Representatives from 1985 to 1995.
With all this industrial background, it’s no surprise that Helen Delich Bentley was a major supporter of the Baltimore Museum of Industry, having served as a Board of Trustee for many years and donating her film and fashion collection to the museum. Helen Delich Bentley was also well-known for her fashion choices as host of the WMAR program, particularly her hats. She was dedicated to wearing outfits made by American designers in order to support local industry. On the object side of their collections, the BMI has Delich Bentley’s hats, entire outfits, accessory garments, and some auxiliary materials unique to Bentley’s work in the shipping industry (awards, ship christening bottles, etc.).
The Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI) also has over 600 reels of motion picture film created by Bentley while she was working on “The Port That Built a City and State”. BMI Archives Manager Maggi Marzolf shared information about the film collection and the project to make it more accessible. It consists mostly of film that was later used in recorded episodes, with only a handful of Kinescopes of the full episodes of the program. Most of the clips are about companies that sponsored the show. In addition to the films, the BMI also has several banker boxes filled with the show’s scripts that often include handwritten notations and edits, and sometimes come with other materials that was used in the research of a particular episode. There are some scripts that were created and not used depending on a turnout of a union vote or whether it was decided that they were for or against a certain topic for discussion.
The BMI recently had 99% of the reels digitized through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Museums for America program. The 1% that have not been digitized are in need of conservation efforts before they can be scanned due to their degraded state. The BMI has an inventory of the content of these reels that is regularly updated with subject information. For the most updated inventory of the films, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Baltimore maintains copies of the television show in the WMAR-TV Collection (the finding aid can be found here). The University of Baltimore also holds the manuscript collection of Helen Delich Bentley, which includes letters and other documents surrounding her work on the port television shows. Here’s an episode from 1961 that UB has digitized and available for streaming on the Internet Archive.
And to end this tribute to Helen Delich Bentley, we want to showcase some of her appearances in MARMIA’s WJZ-TV Collection. We have lots of news footage reporting about her from her decade in politics, and then we have many of her political campaign ads, including the below from 1986.
You must be logged in to post a comment.