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Richard Widmark: A Princeton legend

Classmates: Becoming Richard Widmark

Richard Widmark was just into the last quarter of his 44-year movie career in 1978. He was not in as demand as he had been but still found and was offered roles that interested him. He made “Comawith Michael Douglas and Genevieve Bujold, and “The Swarm” with Michael Cain and an all-star cast in 1978. He was co-starred with David Carradine in “Mr. Horn” and co-starred with Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Lee in “Bear Island” in 1979. He starred in “All God’s Children” in 1980. This was not the glamour part of his career, but steady professional that he was, he never failed to give a great performance.

Those three years, 1978, 1979 and 1980 were important years for me. The last year I worked for someone other than myself; the year I won my first State of Illinois Duck Stamp Competition; and the year I first made a little money thanks to the stamp and notoriety it brought with it. In that period of time, I also became well acquainted with the Brown family and Tribune Printing Co. I started doing a few projects at Tribune, usually with Bill Brown. I met Bill’s father, Stan, his Uncle Harlow, and cousins, Doug and Mike. Stan and Harlow were great guys, very knowledgeable in their craft, and both with skills in the finer arts. They made me feel like family and were great supporters when I started entering and winning State Duck Stamp contests with my art. There was shared excitement and support at the morning coffee klatch they held every morning, when I won my first competition.

Many of the “heavyweights of the day,” (Pete Eckdahl, Hugh Skinner, Bob Zearing, Harold Parr, General O.C. Hudson), had coffee there. I was the young guy they included. I got to know my way around their darkroom and learned to process film. Stan and Harlow were both pros and they helped me a lot. 

There was one time, around 1979 or 1980, waiting for a negative to process in the dark room, that Stan Brown first mentioned to me that he was in Richard Widmark’s class in high school. I think we were talking about the movies; it just came up, and I’m sure I was totally impressed. He told me he remembered him as kind of shy and introverted. They weren’t great friends, just classmates. Stan said he was somewhat disappointed that Widmark never made it back for any of the class reunions but could easily understand why. 

Stan Brown read his former classmate well; he was right on the money in his remembering Richard Widmark.

“The real reason Dick doesn’t see more people socially is not fear of making enemies ... Dick’s shy, and I’m anti-social,” said fellow actor Robert Mitchum. “Dick’s the shyest man I’ve ever known,”

Ollie Carey (former silent screen queen and wife of famed actor Harry Carey Sr.) declared. “Shy?” wife Jean Widmark once said with a smile, “I had to work like a dog to get a date with him. When my father met him,” Jean recalled, “he thought Dick was a nothing. Dick was shy. He couldn’t think of anything to say. All he could do was clear his throat. My father was a Rotarian kind of banker,” Jean explained. “He made a lot of speeches. He just didn’t understand a man who didn’t speak out. He had no hope for Dick. He thought he was some bumpkin. The facts proved him wrong.”

In a 1949 interview, he was asked, “Your studio touts you as a very quiet, reserved and shy guy. Are you what they say?”

“I guess I’ve always been a little shy,” Widmark responded.

Stan Brown shared many interests with Richard Widmark. They were both in Science Club and French Club in high school besides attending classes together. They both liked sports. Widmark played football, and in later life, he would take up golf and tennis. Brown played golf, tennis and was on the track team in high school. Richard played the piano and drums, and Stan played the organ. They both loved music, but I don’t know if they ever played together. Stan bought an organ in the 1950s from fellow classmate, Tom Best. Best was one of Widmark’s closest friends in high school and later life. Stan and Richard both enjoyed cigars, loved dogs, and later in life, they both traveled to foreign shores. Stan Brown loved Tarpon and Marlin fishing. He traveled to Costa Rica, Ecuador, Baja, Mexico and the Florida Keys to enjoy this sport. Stan and his brother, Harlow Jr., were avid duck hunters. Brown and Widmark both married at about the same time in life and would each have just the one child. Stan Brown married Olive Walton in 1941 and were parents to Bill Brown. Richard Widmark married Ora Jean Hazelwood in 1942 and were parents to Anne Heath Widmark.

Stan Brown headed off to college at the University of Wisconsin after high school, while Richard Widmark was attending Lake Forest College. Stan’s college life came to a halt after just three years. He had to return home and help run the family business. His father, Harlow Brown Sr., had become postmaster of Princeton in 1933, and found he could not run the Bureau County Tribune and do justice to his new job also. Harlow Sr. had bought the business from E.K. (Kent) Mercer in 1918.

The first issue of the Bureau County Tribune was published in August of 1872. Harlow Sr.’s two sons, Stan and Harlow Jr., were old enough and trained enough to take over the job of running the newspaper. The brothers took over the newspaper in 1935 and ran it until March 16, 1951. They saw that their forte was more in the line of printing than in the newspaper line, so they became the Tribune Printing Co. They used the offset printing method and specialized in four-color brochures, pamphlets, booklets, letterheads and matching envelopes, forms, typesetting and design. The brothers were masters of their craft and both had a certain flair for related work in the arts.

Stan was an ace photographer, while Harlow Jr. could make any found old wooden object into a refined work of art. Stan and Harlow Jr. slowly passed the business over to their sons, Bill and Doug. Stan Brown retired in 1979, but kept his hand in the business in an advisory capacity for many years. The Tribune Printing Co. ceased business in 2012.

Stan Brown passed away July 18, 1990. His brother Harlow Jr. died Jan. 7, 2001, and his son (Harlow Douglas) Doug Brown on Feb. 7, 2014. Stan’s son, Bill Brown, still lives in Princeton.

Richard Widmark had this to say looking back at his career. “The only real security comes from a belief in oneself — and that goes for every man, whatever he does to make a dollar.” 

Stan Brown and his brother had that belief in themselves. I knew them both, and it was  so very evident. I’ll get to more Richard Widmark classmates next time.

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