Alexander Sorto, 7, of Silver Spring sits in front of a green screen as his head is projected atop Santa's body at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 11. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

The younger kids are not sure what they think of the contraption Bill Ritchie has set up in the atrium of Children’s National Medical Center. It isn’t the equipment itself that’s so scary — every American child older than about 20 minutes recognizes TV screens and video cameras. It’s what that equipment does that frightens them a bit.

Bill’s business is called Bopping Heads Dance Videos, and it uses green screen technology to place a person’s head atop a videotaped body that dances goofily in front of an animated background. It’s a silly thing really, but as the little kids are draped from the neck down in a green smock, a few are thinking: I’ve been through so much and now you’re removing my head from my body?

But once Bill adjusts the camera and presses play, they get into the spirit.

“I was like this,” says 7-year-old Alexander Sorto, after he hops down from the Atrium stage. He blows out his cheeks like a fish.

“You make me laugh,” says his mom, Dolores Canales.

Alexander has a liver problem that kept him in Children’s for two months this year. He’s on the liver transplant list, but his mom says he’s looking much better these days. His condition is under control with the help of seven medications.

“He’s always been active,” Dolores says. “Even if he’s sick or not.”

Alexander is having a great time watching the other kids record their videos, which are burned onto a DVD to take home.

“Next time we have movie night, I want to watch this,” Alexander says.

I ask the man behind the controls how making kids laugh compares with chasing murderers. Bill Ritchie is a former District police officer who retired after 23 years, including a stint heading the homicide division.

“That was a different life,” Bill says.

Bill estimates that there were 2,000 homicides in the District while he was on the force. Some of the victims, inevitably, were children. Back then, visits to Children’s Hospital were often to take witness statements.

After Bill retired from the police department he went to Washington Hospital Center, where he worked with the relatives of people who had recently died. He later worked in private security.

Last year, he was strolling Atlantic City’s boardwalk when he saw a Bopping Heads video setup. He decided to become a franchisee. He regularly donates his services to Children’s.

“Putting a smile on a child’s face is priceless,” Bill says. “I’m in a position to do that. It’s kind of a giveback.”

Smiles are, indeed, priceless. I hope, however, that I can put a price on something else: supporting the uncompensated care fund at Children’s. That money is used to pay the bills of underinsured kids.

Actually, you set the price. Whatever you give will be much appreciated. To make a tax-deductible donation go to or send a check (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

Massey appeal

Ilona Massey, the subject of my column Tuesday, may have made her last movie in 1949, but the late actress is still remembered in these parts.

In 1961, Laytonsville’s Marilyn Carollo worked as an organist and sales person at Campbell Music Co., at 15th and G streets NW. One day, Ilona Massey walked in and asked if the store had an organist to accompany her to a singing engagement in Pennsylvania for a weekend.

Marilyn piped up: “Yes. Me!

Marilyn wrote: “I immediately got the job, complete with wardrobe and salary. The weekend was fabulous. . . . She was the kindest person I ever met. We drove to the club with her aunt and dog in tow. Of course, I heard all about her family and career on that long trip. She made a tremendous impact on me. The trip was 50-plus years ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind.”

Marilyn is 85 now, and she’s still employed as an organist.

Charles H. McCormick of Montgomery Village pointed out that Massey and her husband, former Truman aide Donald Dawson, had a second home: Chatterton Farm, overlooking the Potomac in King George, Va.

Charles wrote: “Dawson bought it for her from the widow of Frank Bielaski, a fervent anti-Communist private detective and former OSS security operative who made headlines in the early Cold War testifying before various witch-hunting Congressional committees.”

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