Kevin Bacon's father helped mold him and Philadelphia
July 6, 2011 4:00 AM
Christopher A. Stanley/The Reporter
Actor and musician Kevin Bacon, shown playing at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2000, along with his brother, Michael, helped save the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia.
By Steven Rea The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA -- In "X-Men: First Class," one of the summer's box-office hits ($320 million worldwide and counting), Kevin Bacon stars as a maniacal mutant super-villain. Later this month, the Philadelphia born-and-bred actor can be seen with Steve Carell in the comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love."
"I've always mixed it up," Mr. Bacon says on the phone from Los Angeles, where his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, is shooting the final season of "The Closer." "That's been my MO. I don't want to do one kind of movie. ... I got into this so I could go to different places, both in terms of character and in terms of genre."
But Mr. Bacon confesses -- with a laugh, and a note of affection -- that he also "got into this" because of his dad.
That would be Edmund N. Bacon, the Philadelphia city planner and a driving force behind such game-changing projects as the rehabilitation of Society Hill and the development of Penn Center and the Gallery at Market East mall. Growing up in the shadow of this influential figure -- a man featured on the cover of Time, no less -- young Kevin found himself determined to become more famous than his pops.
"My father was actually a very big influence on me and on my career," Mr. Bacon explains. "He really embraced his fame, his notoriety, his celebrity, if you will. While he was mostly fueled by this love for the city of Philadelphia and a desire to change the city ... he also was very into fame. ... It was a big part of his life. He used to save all of his (magazine and newspaper) clippings. ... And I have to tell you, that certainly was part of what drove me to do what I do.
"I'm not going to lie: I think there was a part of me that thought, 'I can be more famous than the old man if I work really hard.' "
It was a filial competition that lasted almost to the end, when, in 2005, Ed Bacon died at 95.
"Even when he was really old," Mr. Bacon recalls, "I would come down to Philadelphia to see him, and we'd go for a walk, and people would call out, 'Mr. Bacon! Mr. Bacon!'
"And, of course, I'd turn around thinking they were going to ask me for my autograph, and they'd say, 'I love you, Ed!' or 'Great work, Ed!' ... Nothing made him happier than to be recognized before I was. That was a great joy."
Mr. Bacon has done promotional campaigns for the City of Philadelphia. His sister Hilda still lives in the area, as does his brother, Michael. The Bacon Brothers, who have toured and recorded through the years, led the Save the Mummers campaign in 2009 after city budget cuts. Michael and Kevin recorded a special version of their song "New Year's Day" with the All-Star String Band, sending proceeds to the Mummers Fund. They also performed a benefit concert.
Mr. Bacon grew up on Locust Street not far from Rittenhouse Square ("the neighborhood was obviously much less gentrified -- there were diners and coffee shops, but it wasn't that vibrant Rittenhouse Square kind of scene"), and he still considers this place home. He has come to understand, too, why Philadelphians hold his father in such high regard.
"For all his controversial and kind of cantankerous rantings, and all the eccentricity that he had, people -- not everybody, but a lot of people -- really had this fundamental love for him. Philadelphians felt very kindly toward him, and that was always nice to see."
Mr. Bacon recalls the treks his father used to take him on -- long hikes to neighborhoods that had seen better days.
"He loved to walk," says the star. "I love to walk, too, but when you're a kid the things that your parents are forcing you into -- it's like, 'Oh, no, this is a nightmare!' And one of them was walking. He called them field trips. He'd take me down to some burned-out area -- and I was a little kid -- and we'd talk about his vision for this neighborhood. And I'm thinking I'd much rather be out throwing a ball than going for a walk with my old man through this place, but that's who he was.
"And interestingly, although I never for a second considered a career in city planning or architecture or urban design or any of that stuff, it still is very important to me. I still love architecture. I love design. I love cities. I love to see people using public spaces -- and I love Philadelphia."