The following was written for the Eileen Brennan Memorial, which was held in Los Angeles last week; I was unable to be there, but the piece was read at the event.
I first saw Eileen Brennan in the off-Broadway musical hit, Little Mary Sunshine, a satiric delight in which she was brilliantly funny, sang with grace and gusto, and generally established herself as a major talent. This was around 1960.
Ten years later, I still remembered that performance when we had her come in and read for a role in The Last Picture Show. She was perfect for Genevieve, the long-suffering yet feisty waitress at the only diner in the little Texas town; and almost twenty years later, she played the role beautifully again when we shot a sequel, Texasville. In between, we did two other pictures together, and she was superb in both Daisy Miller—as a snobbish American ex-patriot socialite in Rome—and in the Cole Porter musical, At Long Last Love, in which her marvelous singing and dancing abilities were finally displayed on screen; she nearly stole that picture playing Cybill Shepherd’s jack-of-all-trades amanuensis.
All through those good times, she was the consummate professional, always well prepared, ready to try anything, vividly able to sustain an especially long take, such as doing fourteen pages without a cut in Daisy Miller, or in At Long Last Love playing an entire intricate song-and-dance number in one shot. Eileen had a great sense of humor and of the absurd: she was very funny, never at others’ expense, quick with sympathy, and as dear as a true friend can be.
The nature of show business life is not unlike a gypsy’s: here today, somewhere else tomorrow. So I didn’t see Eileen for a number of years, though we stayed loosely in touch. The last time was at a Special Academy Screening of The Last Picture Show a couple of years ago in L.A. on the occasion of the picture’s 40th Anniversary. Forty years! It didn’t seem possible—for any of us there that night. We all remembered the experience so keenly.
Eileen was not in good shape. She had trouble walking and it took two of us to help her up onto the stage. But she was still as quick as ever with a funny crack and a fast startling insight. She made a point of mentioning to me how much she loved the wristwatch I had given her over thirty-five years ago! She was not one to take anything for granted, grateful for everything, and ever loving. She was one of the really special talents I’ve been fortunate enough to work with and to know as a friend. I will always miss her.