February 11, 2009 6:23 PM
James Brolan Remembered
I'll end this series of yarns with my favorite: In Afghanistan, James was with a crew at an Afghan Army firing range. They'd done an interview with an American colonel — call him Col. Smith — who felt he had said something he shouldn't have. Several minutes later, Col. Smith comes over, clearly very agitated, saying, "look, I said something there you shouldn't use — can not use — in the story. It would be very bad for what we're trying to do here" — meaning very bad for him — so don't use it.
Quick as a whip James looks at him and says, "Of course we won't use it, Private Smith. The other Americans there cracked up. The colonel was completely embarrassed and trying to re-assert his authority says — in effect, "you're so good at firing off your mouth, try firing this, wise guy," and hands him an AK. James, the military-trained James, picks up the gun, cocks it aims and blasts the target to shreds, adding injury to insult. In some American mess somewhere, people are still laughing at that one.
For the one or two of you who haven't heard the "how James disarmed George Clooney" story — I'll repeat it briefly. James, said by some to look like Clooney, went up to him before an interview, paused and said, "goodness me," — or words to that effect — "it's just like looking in the mirror. Nobody who was there can remember what Clooney said in the interview, but everybody remembers James' line.
Reputations are built on stories like that. And friendships.
If we remembered him in that way — there are hundred, maybe thousands of children from Iraq to Pakistan to Nepal to who knows where who remember him for his little sight gags: the separating thumb trick … the offered-and-then-quickly-withdrawn handshake trick.
I can still hear the kids laughing. It was always the best way to find James — look for the gaggle of laughing kids.
Or look for the pack of Sherpas on Mount Everest. For James, the ascent to the Everest base camp was living a dream. Among his legendary consumption of books were accounts of the great explorers and adventurers, Mallory among them.
But rather than using oxygen on the climb, James used Rothmans … and of course, all the Sherpas smoked too — all the time — as they hauled their loads uphill. It was a relationship made in heaven, to which they seemed to be climbing. The Sherpas provided the local knowledge and James provided the jokes and the fags.
There's a guy in a carpet shop in Islamabad — a big fat guy — who James always called my other brother from my other mother. A silly line. He'd introduce the guy that way to anybody else in the shop. The guy loved it. Whenever James would walk in the place there'd be a race to see who would say it first. I don't think it reduced the price of the carpets any, but I'm told that like the rest of us, when the other brother from the other mother heard the news of James' death, he took it pretty hard. Like a death in the family — even one with two mothers.
James was a guy who naturally connected with people, whether working as part of a film crew or decorating houses. Once you knew him, you stayed connected. All over this part of London there are Queen's counsels, famous composers, film and theatrical directors, who met James because they hired him to paint their houses and who stayed friends. I'm told we're in this church today because James once did some decorating work for the Vicar.
James was a privilege to know. He had the knack or seeing the levity in situations in which there wasn't much levity. He made the terrible, bearable. Among the great tragedies of today is that he isn't here to help us through this.
James is still everybody's other brother.
Geri and the family have asked that I end with this quote from Kipling's Kim, and you'll soon see why:
"From time to time, God causes men to be born — and thou art one of them — who have a lust to go abroad at the risk of their lives and discover news. Today it may be of far-off things, tomorrow of some hidden mountain, and the next day of some nearby men who have done a foolishness against the State. These souls are very few; and of these few, not more than 10 are of the best."
Those wishing to make contributions to Brolan's family may send them to the following address. Please make checks payable to "Trust for the Family of James Brolan."
Attention: Andy Clarke, Deputy Bureau Chief CBS News London
1st Floor, Building 10
566 Chiswick High Road
LONDON W4 5XS
By Mark Phillips
Add A Comment +
Popular Now in CBS Evening News
- Okla. tornado survivor finds dog buried alive under rubble
- Storm spotter: Oklahoma tornado "a nightmare"
- Survivors pulled from Okla. school hit by tornado
- Oklahoma tornado survivor: "Everything is gone"
- Injured third-grade teacher tells of trying to protect students
- Okla. family mourns child killed at school following tornado
- Tornado in Moore, Okla., was an EF5, the most powerful there is
- At least 51 dead after tornado strikes Oklahoma City suburb
- 5/20: Deadly tornado strikes Okla.; Fmr. Cincinnati IRS office worker speaks out
- Mother and daughter share stories of survival
- Oklahoma native's home destroyed for the second time
- 5/21: Plaza Towers Elementary School: A look at the damage; Tornado injuries: A doctor's point of view
- Saving the kids: One teacher's mission to keep her class safe
- 5/21: Family's last-minute decision likely saved their lives; Closer look reveals extent of destruction in Moore
- Agent: I was ordered to let U.S. guns into Mexico
- The next day: Search-and-rescue operations become search-and-recovery efforts