My perception of David Brown was his reality—he knew everybody. He knew people no one living is supposed to know.
When I mentioned using Irving Berlin songs for a musical about him, David said, “Ray, I speak to Irving on the phone every day. He won’t go for it.” When I mentioned I was writing a script about ballplayer-genius-spy Moe Berg, David said, “When Ernie Lehman [Oscar-nominated screenwriter] and I were cub reporters, we interviewed Moe at the Red Sox training camp in Sarasota.” And he unearthed a faded newspaper clipping from the ‘30s for me.
I’ve been introduced to some illustrious people by other illustrious people, but who but David Brown would take me by the arm and walk me across a ballroom to introduce me to Steven Spielberg? And introduce me in a way that Spielberg would remember me the next time our paths crossed? And take as much pleasure as I to learn that Spielberg knew and praised my two chief documentaries.
David was, in a word, gracious. When he heard I’d written my first screenplay, he called to ask, “Why haven’t I seen it, Ray?” When I answered, slightly embarrassed and on the defensive, “David, it’s not for you,” he said, “Ray, we’re friends. Let me be the judge of that.” He called within days of receiving it to agree with me—it wasn’t for him—but to say, “I want to see everything you write.” That’s a friend.
The one script of mine he became excited about was the one about Moe Berg. He suggested producing it with me and was briefly my partner, twice. As flickonomics would have it, he begged off—graciously—explaining he was just too overextended to do justice to “this very special” project.
In 1988, I produced an evening honoring David—and pounced on the occasion to lure a hard-to-get Shirley MacLaine onto the program. Capitalizing on her notoriety for her faith in past lives, her opening line was, “I’ve been in love with David Brown for two thousand years.” David called me the next morning to say, “Ray, you’re a great producer,” a great (disproportionate) compliment coming from a great producer when he could have stopped at thank you. Gracious.
And of course David would be one to call to make me feel like I was already a winner when one of those aforementioned documentaries was nominated for an Oscar.
I think of David every time I think of his witty opinion from his book, “Brown’s Guide To Growing Gray,” to wit, no one was ever offended by being over-tipped. And think of him every time I pass what passes today for the Russian Tea Room and wish we’d had a few more lunches together at the old Tea Room. Another former RTR habitué, agent Jeannine Edmunds, likened David to Fred Allen, “wise about the business,” adding choice words for him like “informed” and “attentive.” David was as good a listener as he was a conversationalist. His New York Times obituary referred to him as “courtly” and “urbane,” while London’s Guardian captured his charm in one succinct sentence: “Indeed, Brown was exceptional in his modesty and self-effacing geniality, traits rare in Tinseltown.” All in all, David was as kindly as he was courtly. And always, infallibly, a consummate gentleman.
The last time I saw him, he thanked me when I told him how good it was to see him, and then turned the conversation to me.
When David reached his ultimate destination, I’ll bet he was on a first-name basis with his greeter—and asked what he or she’d been up to lately.