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BrownstoneBy MYRON LOVE
Many readers are undoubtedly familiar with Doreen Brownstone for her many roles on stage.

Then there are others for whom she was a beloved swimming teacher. Still others consider her a good friend. All of those facets of the Grand Dame of Winnipeg theatre were on view at the Gwen Secter Creative Retirement Centre where Brownstone joined the regular crowd on Wednesday, May 10, for a screening of “Doreen Brownstone: Still Working After 90”, a documentary which was produced by Winnipeg-based actors, writers, directors and producers Angus Kohm and Stefanie Wiens.
The film captures Brownstone’s acting range - she’s done it all – both serious and humourous roles – in theatres across Canada, dinner theatre, television and movies –as well as her sense of humour, her generosity and her friendliness. Among the cast of characters paying tribute to Brownstone are:
- Canadian icon Gordon Pinsent, who fondly recalled working with her on stage in the 1950s when both their careers were getting started.
- The late Lou Kliman, who recalled acting as her unofficial agent in getting her roles on radio and television.
- Well known local actor Harry Nelken, who showed off the hat Brownstone knitted for him and noted that she was always giving away hats, scarves and afghans that she knitted – and other gifts and souvenirs – to friends.
 - Former PTE artistic director Allen Macinnes, who waxed enthusiastic about her cookies and cakes.
- Debbie Maslowsky, who recalled working with Brownstone in a Yiddish version of “Fiddler on the Roof” – she was Yenta the matchmaker - and how the consummate professional, at 90, was still able to do all the choreography.
- And sister stars of the Winnipeg theatre scene: Lillian Lewis and Evelyne Anderson, who spoke of how much they enjoyed working with her.
“Doreen is an ideal subject for a documentary,” said Wiens on the documentary website. Wiens recalled first meeting Brownstone in 1993 in an MTC production of “Fiddler on the Roof”.
“We think of her as a local treasure, but she is much more,” Wiens said. “While doing interviews for the documentary in Toronto, we interviewed Miriam Newhouse, a business rep in the industry. She told us that when Doreen turned 80, the stage actors union had to create a new category for her. There were no other professional actors in Canada who were over 80. Her life is a snapshot of Canadian theatre history.”
Wiens praised Brownstone for her courage, integrity, sense of adventure and perseverance.
Doreen Brownstone didn’t choose to pursue a career in the theatre. Rather, you could say that the theatre chose her. As the documentary reveals, Brownstone was born Doreen Stein in Leeds, England. She was fortunate to have won a scholarship to attend a prestigious school that happened to have a swimming program.
“It changed my life,” she said on screen of the swimming program.
During the war, she joined the RAF and that is where she became involved in theatre. She recalled that a pastor on base invited her to play a role in a production on base.
“I don’t know why I was asked to be part of the play,” she said. “He must have seen something in me. We took the play on the road.”
It was while on leave in London that she met Winnipegger Bill Brownstone. She recalled this good-looking, funny guy with a great singing voice. She was smitten. The couple was married on April 14, 1946, and the new war bride was soon on her way to Winnipeg, where they moved into a new house on Rupertsland in a neighbourhood newly built for returning servicemen.
She soon joined the Jewish Women’s Musical Club where, Evelyne Anderson recalled, Brownstone – with her husky voice – soon became the leading lady. “She could act,” Anderson said.
In the 1950s, Brownstone became part of the Winnipeg Little Theatre ensemble. That is where she met the late Tom Hendry and John Hirsch. In his interview for the documentary, Hendry credited Brownstone for pushing him and Hirsch to create the Manitoba Theatre Centre.
“We were always complaining about the lack of good theatre here,” he recalled. “Doreen finally urged us to start our own theatre.”
In 1958 Brownstone was cast by John Hirsch in MTC’s very first production, “A Hatful of Rain”, playing opposite Gordon Pinsent.
After that, Brownstone, by then a mother to three young children, took her leave of the theatre. She channeled her energy into raising her children and teaching swimming, initially at the YMHA. She continued to teach swimming until the age of 75.
She returned to acting through Malka Lerner’s Jewish Community Players in 1968 and has never looked back.
The documentary concludes with the 90th birthday gala that Winnipeg’s theatre community threw for Brownstone on September 28, 2012, at MTC with a red carpet and 150 in attendance. At the time, she said that “you don’t get to be 90 on purpose. It just happens.”
The documentary debuted in January 2015, at the Gas Station Theatre. While it has been shown at film festivals in other cities, the only other Winnipeg showing was at the Shaftesbury where Brownstone has been a resident for the past few years.
Although the soon-to-be 95-year-old is essentially retired – her last role was in early 2015 – she says that she is still open to offers as long as they are small parts.

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