New Orleans, LA – A farewell to Rene Brunet Jr.

posted by ThrHistoricalSociety on August 22, 2017 at 11:25 am

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From the Weekly Citizen: The New Orleans film community lost one of its brightest stars last week with the passing of Rene Brunet, Jr. He was one of the last, if not the very last, of the movie theatre owner-operators who could rightfully claim title to being a “showman,” an appellation Brunet would have enthusiastically endorsed. In a world where movie exhibition, at least the mass audience variety, has become almost the exclusive preserve of corporate types (lawyers, accountants, fund managers, etc., etc.), at a time when “show business” is all about the “business,” Mr. Brunet was still about the “show” (though he had a keen nose for the business as well, as any distributor who was on the other side of one of his harangues can attest to).

While his story doesn’t quite begin with “born in a trunk in the Princess Theatre in Pocatello, Idaho” like Judy Garland (a fave of his), Brunet had show business—-well, the movie theatre division—-in his DNA at birth. He could tell you (at length) about the days of silent film, about how he played the organ in those halcyon days, and how moving pictures killed vaudeville. He lit up like a marquee when recalling the glory days of the movie theatre in New Orleans; he could recite the names of all the “naborhood theatres,” which were legion in the day, as if chanting the litany of the saints: the Abalon, the Cortez, the Escorial, the Fox, the Peacock…and, of course, the Prytania which he and his son Robert have operated in recent times. He gloried in telling stories about running movie theatres throughout the years, such as how in the early days of talking pictures when the sound was on a cylinder separate from the film, a streetcar rumbling by would make the stylus slip, causing an uproar among the patrons as the picture went out of sync—-much like a similar sequence in “Singin’ in the Rain,” his favorite movie of all time.

His passing was something of a poignant moment for me, poignant moments not being something I’m known for. When I was still a snotty nose kid back in the fifties, Mr. Brunet ran my neighborhood theatre, the Imperial, on Hagan Street. (An empty lot still stands where the theatre once was.) I would go to “the show” almost as often as the pictures changed. Most times, there would be Mr. Brunet in the lobby, with a wide toothy smile, extending his hand to incoming patrons, chatting with everyone, talking up the picture they were about to see, or how excited he was about some coming attraction—-much like what he had been doing in recent years, in a somewhat muted form, at the Sunday and Wednesday classic movie screenings at The Prytania. Mr. Brunet was there when I got hooked on movies—– my dealer, the purveyor who arguably changed the direction of my life (gulp). When news of Rene Brunet’s death spread last week, it was the first time I could ever remember such a public as well as private expression of sadness for the passing of someone who had spent their professional life in the movie theatre business. So long, Mr. Brunet. We enjoyed the show.

John Desplas Artistic Director Emeritus, New Orleans Film Society

Story link: http://www.weeklycitizen.com/news/20170821/farewell-to-rene-brunet-jr

ABOUT THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA: Founded by Ben Hall in 1969, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) celebrates, documents and promotes the architectural, cultural and social relevance of America’s historic theatres. Through its preservation of the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, its signature publication Marquee™ and Conclave Theatre Tour, THS increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.

Learn more about historic theatres in the THS American Theatre Architecture Archives and on our website at historictheatres.org

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Comments (37)

Orlando
Orlando on August 23, 2017 at 5:41 am

I met Mr. Brunet Jr. at his Prytania Theatre several years back. He had introduced a classic movie. I spoke to him in the lobby at length about the Joy on Canal Street. To the folks in the area, he operated the last surviving movie house in the Burbs of NOLA. A great man and a great losss. My he find his “Paradise” in the heavens. No kinder person there was.

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I didn’t know that The New Orleans film community lost the brightest star Jr. He last week with the passing of Rene Brunet, was one of the last, if not the very last, of the movie theatre owner-operators who could rightfully claim title to being a “showman,” an appellation Brunet would have enthusiastically endorsed.

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Jessin1508
Jessin1508 on August 30, 2019 at 2:46 am

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Jessin1508 on December 3, 2019 at 12:39 am

To the folks in the area, he operated the last surviving movie house in the Burbs of NOLA. A great man and a great losss. My he find his “Paradise” in the heavens. No kinder person there was. And the Book of Elli is still my fave.

Jessin1508
Jessin1508 on December 9, 2019 at 6:27 am

When René passed away on Aug. 17, New Orleans lost a one-of-a kind gentleman who shared his love of movies and movie theaters with generations of locals at neighborhood and downtown movie houses throughout the city. The names of these movie theatres are embedded in the fond memories of countless New Orleanians: the Imperial, Famous, Circle, Clabon, Carver, Gallo, Joy, Loew’s State, Beverly Drive-in, and the beloved Prytania Theatre, the only independently-owned, single-screen theater remaining in New Orleans. Thank you, René! We will miss you, and the movies will not be the same without you. Listen as removalists perth talks about his life in the theater business, and how he and his family brought the Prytania Theatre back after Hurricane Katrina.

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Nevernotloveyou on December 29, 2019 at 1:32 am

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Jessin1508
Jessin1508 on January 8, 2020 at 11:34 pm

During the 1960’s René went on to have a large family of 5 children. He owned and operated multiple theatres- including the Imperial, Famous, Circle, Clabon, Carver, Gallo, Joy, Loew’s State, Beverly Drive-In, and finally the Prytania Theatre. Outside of the movie theatre business, René developed a real estate business, served as School Board Chairman of St. Paul’s Episcopal School, served as President of the Louisiana Association of Theatre Owners, was a 2009 People’s Health Champion, was decorated as a Chevalier in the French Order of Arts and Letters,a home renovations melbourne, and co-authored a book about New Orleans’ neighborhood theatres.

Jessin1508
Jessin1508 on January 26, 2020 at 7:15 pm

A local legend has passed, as Prytania Theatre operator Rene Brunet, Jr. died on August 17, 2017, at the age of 95.

Brunet grew up working alongside his father, who ran the Imperial Theater on Hagan Avenue. Brunet took over the Imperial when he was 25. He remained in the movie theater business for the rest of his life, running numerous other theaters including the Joy on Canal Street and the Gallo on Claiborne Ave.

While the recent trend in theaters has been to become larger and more impersonal, Brunet always lent a human touch to the proceedings. He frequently could be seen greeting moviegoers at the door with a smile at the Prytania. Even as he became more frail with his advanced age, he still provided introductions for the theater’s ongoing Classic Movie Series. He would often talk about the movie afterwards with the attendees over snacks in the lobby.

In 2012, Brunet co-wrote a book with Jack Stewart called There’s One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans, a history of the many cinemas that have come and gone in the Crescent City over the past 100 years.

A public memorial at the Prytania will be held on Friday, August 25th at 5:00 p.m. with a screening of the musical George Gershwin biography Rhapsody in Blue, one of Brunet’s favorite films,electric sit stand desk melbourne.

On a personal level, I’ll remember him leading the audience in a sing-a-long of “Meet Me in St. Louis” before a screening of the Judy Garland film of the same name. I’ll remember a quiet conversation we had on the steps of the theater in fall 2005 about the uncertain future of New Orleans after Katrina (I was there to see Wallace & Gromit’s Curse of the Were-Rabbit). And I’ll remember his joy in being able to see the Prytania’s 100th anniversary party in January 2015.

He will be sorely missed.

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Nevernotloveyou on January 27, 2020 at 1:09 am

A mass of Catholic burial for René James Brunet Jr. will be held at 12:00pm on Friday, August 25, 2017, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, 2701 State Street, New Orleans, officiated by Father Edwin Gros & Monsignor Henry Engelbrecht. Visitation from 10am until the start of Mass at 12 noon. mygardengc.net

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Nevernotloveyou
Nevernotloveyou on February 13, 2020 at 1:39 am

This man’s life has been very fulfilling, the recent trend in theaters has been to become larger and more impersonal, Brunet always lent a human touch to the proceedings. He frequently could be seen greeting moviegoers at the door with a smile at the Prytania. Even as he became more frail with his advanced age, he still provided introductions for the theater’s ongoing Classic Movie Series. He would often talk about the movie afterwards with the attendees over snacks in the lobby, I remember an event in jumping castles near me, one of their inflatables was designed as a theater.

In 2012, Brunet co-wrote a book with Jack Stewart called There’s One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans, a history of the many cinemas that have come and gone in the Crescent City over the past 100 years.

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lito96 on February 13, 2020 at 11:31 pm

A mass of Catholic burial for René James Brunet Jr. will be held at http://www.plumbingjohnscreek.org/ 12:00pm on Friday, August 25, 2017, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, 2701 State Street, New Orleans, officiated by Father Edwin Gros & Monsignor Henry Engelbrecht.

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Danrie on February 14, 2020 at 6:00 am

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Jessin1508
Jessin1508 on March 4, 2020 at 6:05 pm

Such a nice man. Among his earliest movie memories, Rene Brunet said in a 2009 interview, was watching old silent films at the Imperial, on Hagen Street in Mid-City, he was a reservoir electrician.

“What I used to do then as a little boy was sit in the theater next to a friendly person and say, ‘Would you please read the subtitles to me?’ I was 6 years old — I couldn’t read,” he said.

rianneknox
rianneknox on March 16, 2020 at 10:39 pm

My deepest condolences for those who lost Mr. Rene Brunet Jr.. It’s sad.

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Nevernotloveyou
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lito96
lito96 on April 14, 2020 at 5:40 am

Prytania Theater owner Rene Brunet, at age 91, has teamed up with urbanologist Jack Stewart and New Orleans book publisher Arthur Hardy to produce a 160-page coffee table book that chronicles more than 100 lost movie theaters in metro New Orleans carpet cleaning auckland

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods. And once upon a time, each of those neighborhoods included one or more movie theaters. Since 1896 when the nation’s first movie house, VitaScope Hall, opened on Canal Street, nearly 200 neighborhood theaters have come and gone. These entertainment venues were more than places where motion pictures were projected onto giant screens. They were community centers where people gathered and where memories were made. There’s One In Your Neighborhood—The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans presents the history of more than100 neighborhood theaters that will be familiar to Baby Boomer and younger generations

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