Hollywood actor from Brainerd pens memoir working with Brando, Peck
A graduate of Brainerd High School and The Juilliard School in New York City penned a memoir published last month about growing up in Brainerd, his time as a Hollywood actor and his later work collaborating with luminaries Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck in their final years.
BRAINERD — The glitz and glamour of Tinseltown is a far cry from the Brainerd lakes area where Joseph Brutsman grew up.
The 61-year-old actor of stage and screen spent his formative years honing his craft as a teen in a Brainerd High School auditorium before working in Hollywood as an adult.
“He was a great teacher back then at Brainerd High School, and he ran the theater department,” Brutsman said of his mentor Andre LaMourea. “He was quite an exceptional guy.”
I still think of Brainerd quite affectionately.
Brutsman was in CBS’s “Scarecrow and Mrs. King,” which aired from 1983-87, and ABC’s “The SlapMaxwell Story,” which aired from 1987-88. He also worked with such acting legends or icons as Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck.
"Marlon & Greg: My Life and Filmmaking Adventures with Hollywood’s Polar Opposites" is Brutsman’s first book. The memoir was published last month and is available on Amazon.com .
“I wrote this because I was thinking back to the days and years I had with both Marlon and Gregory,” Brutsman said by phone. “I realized how much time I had spent with them … in different projects, different scripts, different film projects. Many didn't get made.”
Brutsman, a divorced father of an autistic child, was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, before his parents eventually relocated the family to Crow Wing County.
“My father was a musician who worked seven nights a week at clubs, right there in Brainerd. That's why we moved there,” said Brutsman, a 1978 Brainerd High School graduate.
Brutsman said LaMourea would put on classic plays such as Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”
“And he was really professional about it, and he really treated kids like professionals,” Brutsman said of LaMourea. “And that really was, indeed, where I felt I knew that I had the ability to act. And I really didn't really have that until I got into his theater department.”
Brutsman attended The Juilliard School in New York City from 1979-83 where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
“I was also quite an illustrator and a cartoonist and an artist at the time … and people thought, ‘Well, that's what he’ll go into,’” he said of his time before becoming a professional actor.
His sister, Laura Busch, who still lives in Brainerd, was a grade below him but also went to the prestigious private performing arts conservatory in the Big Apple.
“I wanted to go into films and, yes, people thought, ‘Well, that's probably a difficult thing to do,’” Brutsman said. “But when my sister and I both got into Juilliard, we were encouraged … because it was a unique situation for both of us to come from the same town, same family.”
A star is born
Brutsman said his parents and his two sisters lived for a time in Detroit Lakes in between Cheyenne and Brainerd, but it’s the latter he calls home and where his mother still lives.
“There were just some great teachers there,” Brutsman said of Brainerd. “And I really have to think about how supportive the town was when I was an artist and a musician, and then I got into theater. People were always very supportive. And it was a very nurturing place.”
Brutsman’s classmates at Juilliard included Kevin Spacey, Ving Rhames, Kelly McGillis and Elizabeth McGovern. But it was his time with Brando and Peck that made a lasting impression.
“I did get a film made with Marlon. It was his last starring role,” Brutsman said of Brando and the 1999 cable TV movie “Free Money.”
“Free Money” was a comedy about a prison warden, played by Brando, in a small Midwestern town.
“I grew up admittedly wanting to make films and make movies and all these things,” Brutsman said of the California-based entertainment industry. “But you really don't know what it’s about until you get there. … You know it's a very rude awakening.”
I saw them as Hollywood royalty.
Brutsman was the co-executive producer and co-writer of the screenplay for "Free Money," which also featured actors Charlie Sheen, Mira Sorvino and Donald Sutherland.
“My writing partner was Tony Peck, Gregory's son, who I met at Juilliard, and my wife was Avra, who still runs Marlon's estate to this day, so that's where my connection was to both of these men,” Brutsman said. “And I got to know them quite well through Tony and through Avra.”
Brutsman completed many projects with both Peck and Brando, including the editing of Brando's final personal project, "Lying for a Living," Brando's video examination of acting.
Brutsman said of his book about the men, “I didn't want to hurt anybody. But I was very honest about certain people I've worked with. And I have people in the book who are nameless even.”
Brutsman was the producer of HGTV's "Living with Ed," a 2007 reality series that showed how actor Ed Begley Jr. and his family lead environmentally-friendly lives. Brutsman’s other producing credits include The Learning Channel automotive series "Overhaulin'" and "Rides."
“People take more stake, in a sense, in a book almost than even a film or a television show,” Brutsman said of working in Hollywood and his memoir. “It seems to be TV and film kind of glides by people very quickly. And as for a book, people feel there's a weight to it if you will.”
Brutsman resides in Missoula, Montana, where he is currently a television producer at Warm Springs Productions, which is responsible for such shows as “Mountain Men” and “Louisiana Law.”
“Once I became a writer and a director, they're very different worlds than being a performer out there in L.A.,” he said. “As a writer, you start with a blank page. You're the first person involved. And as an actor, you're the last person. You're the person they hire after it's all set to go.”
Brando is considered one of the most influential actors of the 20th century with performances in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront.” The two-time Oscar winner also starred in “The Godfather.”
“Marlon thought of Avra as a daughter,” Brutsman said of his ex-wife.
Peck turned in memorable performances in the feature film adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and co-starred with Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.”
“I saw them as Hollywood royalty,” Brutsman said of Brando and Peck. “They were amazing people. And then I got to know them as the men they were. … And I also then got to create my own friendships with both of them. … And that's what the book is about.”
Janet Hill left a review earlier this month of Brutsman’s book on Amazon.com. Her review and those of others who posted on Amazon.com were favorable.
“The author knew these two men, has some cool stories and is sharing them,” Hill wrote. “No building up of the stars, no tearing down, just a folksy ‘I did some cool stuff, let me tell you about it.’ Very refreshing approach and so enjoyable.”
Brutsman and his memoir, according to Amazon.com: “‘Marlon and Greg’ is the true story of two legends in their final years, told by someone who was there, in the families and the film industry. He was in the middle of a pair of grand lions who lived and made their exits on their own terms.”
“You put men like that on a pedestal because of their films,” Brutsman said. “And the book — people tell me — humanizes them in certain ways … that you see the real guys there. And that's what I was hoping for.”