Alumna thrives under spotlight
Towson alumna Mary Carol Reilly recalls standing on a corner in Northwest Baltimore in the 1950s, holding her mother’s hand, watching a taxi cab go by.
“I’d like to either be a lawyer, or a cab driver,” she told her mother then.
Reilly’s mother, like any middle class mother raising a young girl in the ‘50s, suggested a reasonable alternative: “Why not be a secretary to a lawyer?”
While Reilly worked a variety of jobs over the course of her 70 years, she never became a secretary to anyone.
Reilly explored multiple professions, from acting in a commercial with Jodie Foster, to fulfilling her dream of driving taxi cabs in Los Angeles, Ca. Through it all, Reilly said the job she loves most is the one in front of a classroom.
Her journey in education began teaching at the House of the Good Shepherd School for delinquent girls.
“The girls are 12 to 16 years of age, I’m all of about 21 with no teaching experience,” Reilly said. “Talk about baptism by fire.”
But at the end of that first month, during which she lost 10 pounds, a miracle occurred. Reilly said she walked into the classroom, and instead of being greeted by a room boiling over with the usual teenage rancor, one of the girls enthusiastically asked what they were doing today. When Reilly eventually left Good Shepherd after a year and a half, she entered into the teaching program at Towson State University in January 1965.
It wasn’t until her final semester that she enrolled in an acting class as an elective. Reilly said she never dreamed of Hollywood before that class. When Reilly, who describes herself as a “gentle, fragile, scared little girl inside,” was scolded by her then employer, the principal of Cecil Elementary School in Baltimore City, soon after, she left teaching and decided to pen a number of letters to TV executives, seeking a part.
She landed at “Romper Room” in Chicago, looking through the magic mirror at hundreds of thousands of kids who waited for her to say their name each afternoon. She also starred in national commercials with the Pillsbury Doughboy and a young Jodie Foster. One commercial, in which Folgers Coffee seems to solve all Reilly’s character’s domestic woes, ran for two decades.
But always in the back of her mind was a different stage, staring into a different audience, where there weren’t any stage directions.
Remembering former students and stories from the classroom is what lights up Reilly’s face, a face the camera loves. She has recently applied for a teaching job in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I know my age will hurt me,” Reilly said.
She’s disappointed, she said, but not defeated.