, a Sociology professor at Richard Stockton College, calls his recent appearance on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" the "highlight of my career thus far."

He played Deacon Cuffy in a few pivotal baptism scenes in last week's episode of the show that takes place in Prohibition-era Atlantic City.

Smith told us that his role on the show, which ended its first season last night, converges a couple of sectors of his life. He's lived and worked in South Jersey for nearly 40 years, and he co-authored a book in the late 1970s, as casino gambling came to Atlantic City, called "A City Revitalized: The Elderly Lose at Monopoly."

"I firmly believe that decades of lecturing, a past scholarly interest in Atlantic City, along with dedicated training and experiences as an actor over the past ten years has created a synergism. . . . What a wonderful thrill it is to be a part of this warm supportive production," said Smith, whose credits include "Invincible" and "The Wire," adding that he hopes that Deacon Cuffy returns next season. So do we.

Miss PA USA in pin-up pose

Newly crowned Miss Pennsylvania USA Amber-Joi Watkins is Miss May in the 2011 Varga Bar (10th & Spruce) pin-up calendar. Watkins, who will represent the Keystone State at Miss USA in Las Vegas in May, is a Penn grad and former Sixers dancer who works in PR and marketing. The calendar, photographed by Celeste Giuliano, is available at the restaurant starting Wednesday night at a calendar party at 9 featuring free appetizers and an hour-long open bar. Most of the calendar girls will be in the house. Calendars are $20 with $5 for Liberty USO.

Out and about

Screen legend Ernest Borgnine lunched yesterday with family at Maggiano's in King of Prussia, where he was very gracious to Clothier to the Stars Baba Taiye Renfrow, of Distante (1510 Sansom), who went over to say hello. . . . Phillies slugger Ryan Howard and Eagles cheerleader girlfriend Krystle Campbell hung out at Chickie's & Pete's (1526 Packer) the other night. . . . Phillies legend Steve Carlton joined three others for dinner Friday at Davio's (111 S. 17th), where Lefty sipped pinot noir and went for filet mignon with asparagus. . . . "Top Chef" winner Kevin Sbraga dined at Le Bec-Fin (1523 Walnut) Friday night, two days after cheering on Jen Carroll, now seen in Bravo's "Top Chef All-Stars," at 10 Arts by Eric Ripert at the Ritz-Carlton, where she works.

Blasts from their past

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a West Philly native, ordered T-shirts from Benny's Billiards and Barson's and two dozen soft pretzels from RetroPhilly.com, which also just sent homeboy David Brenner shirts from Stanley Green's and Murray's 60th Street, and Brooklyn-born comedienne Elayne Boosler a shirt from the Bijou Cafe, which was the first venue she performed at in Philadelphia. RetroPhilly.com's Fred Lavner also sent Lower Merion-raised TV producer Marshall Herskovitz shirts from Horn & Hardart and Chopsticks, and a Lennox Movie Theater shirt and Belmont Hills Elementary hoodie to Penn Valley-raised superagent Arn Tellem. The company launches RetroBrooklyn.com Jan. 8 and soon a retail store in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.

Charitably minded

_ Shane Victorino surprised kids at the Bridesburg location of the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia Saturday when he stopped by to hand out holiday treats, such as Phillies swag and Target gift cards to the kids.

The Phillies outfielder's Shane Victorino Foundation pledged $900,000 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia in February to help renovate their Nicetown facility.

* Eagles tight end Brent Celek and former Bird Bill Bergey will emcee an Arc of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Developmental Disabilities Corp. fundraiser from 6 to 9 Thursday night at Chickie's & Pete's (1526 Packer). The Eagles Pep Band will perform at the event. Tickets are $40 for adults, $25 for students and $12 for children 12 and under. There's food, an open bar and a silent auction, which includes tickets for the Eagles/Vikings game on Dec. 26. For tickets, call Michael Barnes at 215-229-4550, ext. 157.

Visit PhillyGossip.com for Dan's latest updates or follow PhillyGossip on Twitter. Have a tip? Call 215-854-5963, or e-mail grossd@phillynews.com. For recent columns, visit go.philly.com/dangross.