Doreen Brownstone, O.M.
September 28, 1922- December 16, 2022
On the morning of Friday, December 16, 2022, Doreen Brownstone, O.M. died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 100.
Doreen was a mainstay of Winnipeg‘s film and theatre scene, called both the “Grand Dame of Winnipeg Theatre” and Winnipeg‘s “Theatre Grandma,” reflecting the kind of warm inclusivity with which she approached her castmates who very often became friends.
Doreen started her acting career in theatre, and loved acting in theatre, but she was also a prolific film, TV and radio actor, and a passionately proud ACTRA member and staunch supporter and appreciator of the unions she belonged to. Later in her career she appreciated the opportunities film provided, including less memorization, which allowed her to continue working in film right up to the end (although she booked her last gig before the pandemic, she sent in her last self tape the same month she turned 100). Being able to continue to work was meaningful to Doreen, as was her connection to her vast theatre and film “family.”
Doreen was born in Leeds, Yorkshire on September 28th, 1922, beloved second daughter of Mark and Jessie Stein, and welcome sister to Laura. The first of Doreen’s life-changing moments occurred when she received a scholarship to the Roundhay School for Girls, where among other things she learned to swim and dive. The next touchstone moments came during World War Two: First when, inspired by Winston Churchill‘s “We will fight on the beaches…“ speech at the age of 19, she joined the Royal Air Force; later when the chaplain at the RAF Halton station informed her she was going to be in a play, thus introducing her to acting for the first time; and finally meeting and marrying Billy Brownstone in 1945, leading to her coming to Winnipeg, Canada as a war bride in 1946.
In the mid 1950s, already the mother of three young children, Doreen became involved with John Hirsch’s Theatre 77, taking theatre classes and appearing in small roles, and understudying many roles (she was a very quick study who would memorize everyone’s lines just by being in rehearsal). Theatre 77 and Winnipeg’s Little Theatre joined together in 1958, forming Manitoba Theatre Centre. Doreen played opposite Gordon Pinsent in MTC’s inaugural production (A Hatful of Rain) in 1958 — the very first production at the very first regional theatre in North America.
Immediately following A Hatful of Rain, Doreen took many years off from acting to raise her children and support her family working as a swimming teacher. In the late 1960s, Doreen re-entered acting, first through community theatre productions, and then with the help and encouragement of fellow ACTRA member the late Lou Kliman (whom she referred to as her unofficial agent) got opportunities to work in radio for CBC. Doreen joined ACTRA in August 1974 when she was, amazingly, already 51!
Doreen’s credit list offers a fascinating look into the ebbs and flows of the Canadian theatre and film industries. For instance, in 1974, Doreen was part of the Winnipeg cast of the trans-regional CBC soap opera House of Pride, which was about a family spread across several Canadian cities, and production occurred in each of those cities, with a local cast in each location.
One of my personal favourites of Doreen’s credits is the movie True Confections (1991), produced by Roy Krost and directed by Gail Singer, based on Sondra Gotlieb’s novel of the same name. It’s a fantastic little film starring Leslie Hope and Kyle McCulloch which showed at the 2021 Gimli Film Festival.
One of Doreen’s final screen credits was in the horror series Channel Zero playing Grandma Peach, the mother of the late Rutger Hauer’s character Joseph. I was her assistant on set one day when they were filming a scene in which she was alone at a long table, and was to improvise some gibberish. I was standing at a monitor next to the Executive Producer as Doreen gave this charming, hilarious and unexpected performance, and we all had to work very hard to stay silent until the Director called “cut”.
Doreen was a kind, hilarious, generous person with a core of steel and a sense of her own worth. In 2017, she was inducted into the Order of Manitoba for her contributions to our cultural fabric — an honour of which she was deservedly very, very proud.
I suspect I echo the thoughts of many of her other friends and colleagues when I say I learned so much from her over the years and I am better for having known her.
ACTRA Manitoba member
Donations in Doreen’s memory can be made to the Actors’ Fund of Canada or Jewish Child and Family Service.