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James Easton Brodhead: 1932-2012

Character Actor, Journalist, Atheist Activist


James Easton Brodhead, character actor, journalist, and atheist activist, died on April 6 of kidney failure in Santa Barbara. He was 80 years old.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former dancer/choreographer and retired attorney Sue Hawes; son Will Brodhead and his wife, Dorothy R. Adams of San Francisco; son Dan Brodhead of Los Angeles; sister Clover Brodhead Gowing, PhD, and her husband, Parker Gowing of Sequim, Washington; and sister Heather Brodhead, librarian of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

James was a direct descendant (seven times great-grandson) of Captain Daniel Brodhead, second-in-command of the English force that captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664 and renamed the city New York. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 30, 1932, to the late James E. Brodhead II, a Procter & Gamble executive, and the late Martha Pusey Mithoefer Brodhead, a commercial artist. He lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northern England until September 1939.

James Brohead
Click to enlarge photo

Sue Hawes

James Brohead

He made his professional stage debut in summer stock while still at the University of Michigan. After earning a BA in speech in 1954, he made his New York theater debut off-Broadway the following spring, in April 1955, and his Broadway debut two years later, with Paul Muni and Ed Begley Sr., as a juror in the original production of Inherit the Wind. Over the next seven years, he appeared in scores of stage productions and in live television dramas.

Changing careers at the age of 30, Mr. Brodhead joined Time Magazine in 1963, first as an advertising promotion copywriter, then as a correspondent for the Time-Life News Service. Among other things, he covered Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball, and reported on the trial of Sirhan Sirhan, assassin of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Transferred to California in 1967 to cover show business, he left Time two years later to write Inside Laugh-In (published by Signet, 1969), a book based on one of the cover stories he had reported. He also worked as a public-relations account executive before making his screen debut in Kotch, with Walter Matthau, directed by Jack Lemmon, in 1971, and returning to acting as a full-time career.

Mr. Brodhead appeared in 17 feature films, scores of television series and specials, and 111 stage productions, the most recent a month before his 77th birthday. After appearing with Lucille Ball in Mame in 1974, he became part of her television “stock company” near the end of her career, appearing with her in episodes of Here’s Lucy, commercials, and three comedy specials.

Elected to the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony in 1998, he served nearly three terms, appearing in New Year’s Eve concerts and narrating Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait at the symphony’s 2001 Fourth of July concert. In 2005, he produced and served as stage director for the West Coast premiere of Peter Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America, a work for orchestra and seven actors, under Gisèle Ben-Dor’s musical direction.

Mr. Brodhead was a member of three actors’ unions (Equity, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Screen Actors Guild) for more than half of each organization’s existence. He served on the Western Regional Board of Actors’ Equity Association from 1979 to 1983, the board of directors of American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA) West from 1980 to 1982, and the Western Council of the Actors Fund of America from 1993 to 1995, a life member of the latter and a founding member of its Edwin Forrest Society.

He was also a life member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and of American Atheists, which named him Atheist of the Year 1986 for his lawsuit ending religious invocations and prayers at Los Angeles public-school graduations.

There will be no services. Contributions in Mr. Brodhead’s memory may be made to the Santa Barbara Symphony; the Barter Theatre Foundation of Abingdon, Virginia; American Atheists of Cranford, New Jersey; or the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin.

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