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 (15)

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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He is a legend and he is indeed one of the foundations of cinematography. cryptography

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Jessin1508 on August 30, 2019 at 2:46 am

Great man, and an institution in his own right. Cinemas need someone like him to carry the torch.canberra arborist

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He is one of the passionate film enthusiast. Commercial Real Estate Columbus

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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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