HOLLYWOOD HUNK KEEPS THE TIES TO BIRTHPLACE – by
Over the years, Pottawatomie County has spawned many famous and infamous persons. From the “Queen of Rockabilly” to the “Tri-State Terror,” many
natives have given county residents an opportunity to extend their chests in pride and a reason to hang their heads in shame.
But few probably have turned more heads or made more women swoon than People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” Below is a chronicle of Pitt’s life
from information gleaned from his grandmother, Betty Russell of Shawnee, and from a number of his interviews with several writers.
William and Jane Pitt had no idea when their son, William Bradley Pitt, was born Dec. 18, 1963, he would grow into one of the most prolific
actors of the 1980s and 1990s.
“Brad,” as he was quickly called, was a charming baby with an infectious smile and charisma beyond his years. From an early age, young Brad was
a force to be reckoned with. He was charming, bright and would bring a room alive when he appeared.
William Pitt moved to Shawnee with his family when he was 9 and attended Oklahoma Baptist University. Brad’s mother was a junior high school
English teacher. After graduation from college, the older Pitt worked a few jobs before taking a position as terminals manager for Campbell 66
Trucking, Springfield, Mo., where the Pitts still live. The family settled in and grew to include another son, Doug, in 1966, and a daughter,
Julie, in 1969.
But the couple never stayed away from Shawnee long. Each Thanksgiving, they traveled to Shawnee to spend time with William Pitt’s mother and
stepfather, Betty and Raymond Russell. The family also spent at least a week’s vacation in Shawnee each summer.
The holiday tradition was carried on by Mrs. Russell’s grandson, even after he headed to Hollywood and began to make a name for himself.
“But he hasn’t been back since Thanksgiving 1995,” Mrs. Russell said. “He has been so busy making movies and promoting his work that he hasn’t
been able to visit.”
On the last trip, Pitt stopped by Shawnee to spend the night with his grandmother and visit with his aunt, Betty Pitt Robertson. Pitt has a
number of relatives in town.
“He is a very family-oriented person,” Mrs. Russell said. “He has always spent the holidays with the family, until the last few years.”
On his last visit, Pitt brought his then-love interest Gwyneth Paltrow, an actress, along..Brad said they had so much fun on the trip,” Mrs.
Russell said. “They drove. He was pleased because they stopped in Amarillo, Texas, to eat and no one recognized either of them.”
Mrs. Russell said her grandson is unassuming and prefers a quiet night at home to a glitzy evening on the town.
“He is a lovely, likable person who is dear to all of us,” she said. “What you see on the screen is not who he is. Those are just roles he
During his career, he has played a rogue, an abusive druggie, a sociopathic serial killer, a tortured vampire and an angel. He has never been
afraid to go out on a limb to show his versatility as an actor. Unlike many actors, Pitt often sheds his “pretty boy” persona to bring
believability to a role. He has worn his hair short, long and every length in between, bleached blond and dyed dark. He has grown facial hair
and been clean shaven. He has worn contacts to give him the wild-eyed appearance of a mental patient and sat for hours having makeup applied to
give him the pale look of a vampire.
“When he starred in ’12 Monkeys’ he called and told me, ‘You won’t believe the contacts I have to wear so I’ll look crazy, Grandma.'” Mrs.
He has always been quick to tell her to remember the role he is playing is not who he is or what he is about.
“There have been some roles that I really didn’t like,” she said. “When he played Early Grayce in ‘Kalifornia,’ I though he was despicable. I
had to keep telling myself it was only a part he was playing. In fact, when I went to the movies to see it, Ronny Jones (owner of the Cinema
Centre) tried to talk me out of going in. Over the years, I have gotten used to it.”
Mrs. Russell also said she didn’t like the characters he played in “Too Young To Die” or “12 Monkeys.”
“I thought he was a rogue in ‘Too Young To Die,'” she added. She admits she doesn’t always like the scripts he picks, but is always in awe of
the talent he never studied to achieve. Rather, Pitt is a natural actor.
In college, at the University of Missouri, Columbia, he studied advertising. But, by his fourth year, he was discouraged with his choice. He
has said he was disenchanted by instructors who would never allow him to pursue his creative side. A few credits shy of graduation, Pitt, with
a little more than $300 in his pocket, headed West to follow a dream. Though he had an idea he wanted to act, he didn’t share his thoughts with
his family. He has said he was afraid he might fail and didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing until he had achieved at least a little
success. Rather, he told the family he was going to California to study advertising.
Not long after his arrival, Pitt landed his first acting role. Each day he would don a chicken suit, go to the curb in front of a restaurant
and try to entice motorists in. The work was hot and tiresome, but Pitt would not be discouraged.
“He has never been afraid to work for what he wanted,” Mrs. Russell said. She said determination to achieve all goals he sets for himself is
just one facet of his personality.
When he had been in California only a short time, Pitt’s boyish charms had landed him several television spots, including roles on “Another
World,” “Dallas,” “Growing Pains,” “21 Jump Street,” “Head of the Class,” “Trial and Error,” “thirtysomething,” “Tales from the Crypt,” and
He also starred in a few made-for-TV movies before making feature films. After playing extras and bit parts in four movies, Pitt was finally
really noticed. His portrayal of the hitchhiker J.D. in “Thelma and Louise” garnered him praise from director Ridley Scott.
After two more movies, “Johnny Suede” and “Cool World,” he was cast in the Robert Redford film “A River Runs Through It.” His work earned him
critical acclaim and he was soon being called “A young Robert Redford.”
But, staying true to himself, Pitt once again took a risk when he accepted the role of Early Grayce in “Kalifornia.” Dropping his squeaky-clean
image, Pitt let his well-coiffed hair grow, greased it back and lost his razor to play the sociopathic serial killer. The role, many critics
said, allowed Pitt to spread his wings and show his versatility.
He would star in two more movies before being cast as the tortured Louis De Ponte Du Lac in “Interview With the Vampire,” with “Legend of the
Fall” to follow.
A hot property, Pitt can now pick and choose his roles. With each role he picks, Pitt immerses himself in the character he plays. He is less
concerned with the money he makes for playing a role and more concerned with showing himself to be a versatile actor who refuses to be
Mrs. Russell said her grandson’s popularity has taken its toll on his free time.
“He hasn’t been able to come for a visit for awhile and I haven’t talked to him on the phone since last May,” she said.
But, she said, he does manage to wire her a floral arrangement once a month. Because of her husband’s declining health, she said she stays
close to home.
“I don’t know why, but it seems that each month when I receive the flowers, it’s a time when I really need them,” she said.
Mrs. Russell said her grandson recently returned from an extended tour of Europe with girlfriend Jennifer Aniston, also an actress, and is
promoting his new movie “Fight Club,” which opened Friday.
Mrs. Russell admits she is proud of her grandson’s accomplishments, but said the love she has for him is because of the person he is and not
because of his career success.
“He is a very loving and warm person,” she said. “He’s as likely to come up and hug you and say, ‘I love you,’ as not. He brings joy to our
family. All my grandchildren do.”