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.
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.