INTERVIEW WITH DOUG PITT – by Sony Hocklander
In his business office, Doug Pitt talks about his interests, which include family, church, sports, hunting, NASCAR, writing and photography.
As first base coach, Doug Pitt claps and yells encouragement to the batter,his 9-year-old son, during a youth league double-header.
"Two steps, Landon," Doug calls out. The boy scrapes his feet over the dirt and swings the bat behind his shoulder, poised for the pitch.
"Nice cut," calls Dad, who minutes later gives his son a quick squeeze when he’s walked to first.
Carving out time for his three kids is a priority for Doug, an active community member who runs his family-owned computer business, ServiceWorld Computer Center. He reads to his kids and helps them with math homework. He and his wife, Lisa, run them to nightly activities.
They’re a busy, average Ozarks family. Except for one thing: Doug’s brother is Hollywood megastar Brad Pitt.
Doug and his family never guessed years ago what unexpected consequences — and privileges — would come with fame once-removed.
For his kids and their cousins, it means summer vacations at Uncle Brad’s beach house where Aunt Jen (Jennifer Aniston) whips up killer barbecue and homemade salsa.
Doug, Lisa and other family members attend movie premieres, meet Hollywood stars and view rough-cut film screenings, such as "Death to Smoochy" with Danny DeVito, Brad’s next-door neighbor.
"We’ve gotten to go and see things and meet people and do stuff we’d never get to do," says Doug, back from a visit with his brother a month ago.
"And that part is great. But unfortunately, there’s baggage as well."
Springfield residents aren’t a problem, say family members. But when the national media frenzy surrounding Brad peaks — like now with the release of "Troy" — Doug’s phone starts ringing.
Nothing prepares you for being related to a superstar, say Doug and family members. How-to books don’t exist. There’s no one to offer advice. You make mistakes and learn from them.
In the beginning, they were too trusting of national media sources, underestimating how far some people would go to get pictures of them at church or Brad’s visits home. Their words were twisted out of context.
When national media folks and fans began showing up on doorsteps, the Pitt families moved to new houses and closed ranks.
While there was never a formal vote, Doug emerged as the point man on matters concerning his brother. It seemed natural that Jane and Bill Pitt’s middle child — at 37, three years younger than Brad and two years older than Julie — would assume the role of gatekeeper.
"Bill and I didn’t want to do it," says mom, Jane. Doug is good at dealing with people. And with his business, he’s in the public eye anyway.
"It wasn’t discussed, but we were all very willing to let him do it," his mother says.
"Doing it" means more than fielding media calls from the world over. Doug also handles requests from locals who seek donations from Brad. They can average one a week. Some people ask him to lunch on the pretense of business, then hit him up for Brad’s money. Those requests go right in the trash, Doug says. The rest he screens, presenting a few to Brad, who Doug says already gives generously to his own selected charities.
"Honestly, I don’t want to sit down with him for 40 minutes and go over charity requests," Doug says. "He doesn’t want to do it and I don’t want to do it."
Doug is sought by fans — and fanatics — who swing through town seeking a brush with anyone Brad-related.
"I’m here in the office and literally, they pop in to pay me a visit," he says. Most of the time he smiles, shakes hands, politely refuses a photo and sends them along.
"I’m an easy target," Doug says with a shrug and resigned grin, deepening the trademark dimples that match his brother’s, sister’s and mother’s.
Brad can be 2,000 miles away, Doug says, but if members of the national press think he’s in town, they camp out with cameras.
While his brother visits about twice a year, "I’ll guarantee you 49 out of 50 references to Brad being in town are false," Doug says.
The media invasion doesn’t scare him, Doug says. Rather it’s the obsessive fans they attract, including one who sends postcards from all over the country as if she’s family.
Once, says Doug, someone staked out his business for three days.
That’s why being Brad’s brother also means extra precautions, like preferring to keep his kids’ pictures out of the media. And calling police if strangers get alarmingly close.
"I can’t cry too much about it because there’s so much fun and good that comes with it," Doug says of his brother’s success. "Believe me, I have my good days and my bad days regarding this. And sure, are there days that boy, I wish he was an architect? Absolutely. But overall, it’s positive and I wouldn’t change it for the world."
Julie Neal, a stay-home mom who volunteers at her kids’ school, is rarely contacted. People are often surprised to learn Brad and Doug have a sister. "I get that all the time," she says. And most think Brad is the youngest of two.
"I’m the baby," she says with mock seriousness. "Everyone thinks Brad is, but I’M the baby, by golly."
She’s happy to let Doug handle Brad-related issues, though.
"I’m more emotional," she says. She got a few calls when Brad broke up with actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
"And it really bothered me because they just hound you and they were just so mean. And it wasn’t his fault," she says.
Jane and Bill don’t like to discuss their oldest son’s personal life, says Jane over lunch in a rare interview.
"Just because, well, it’s very difficult because he is just my kid," she says with a warm smile. "And that’s just what he does for a living. You want your children to succeed no matter what they do for a living, and this is what Brad has chosen.
"It’s not why I’m proud of him. I’m proud because of what kind of person he is."
Kind. Thoughtful. Honest.
Like her other two kids, she says: "It’s the same reason I’m proud of all of them."
There’s no doubt the Pitt family is tight-knit, say friends. Doug and Lisa live in the same neighborhood as Julie and her husband, Rob Neal, a friend of Doug’s who works at ServiceWorld.
Lisa was a family friend. In high school she was a cheerleader, and a year older than Doug. Plus, she ran in his brother’s crowd.
She never gave him a serious look back then, Doug says. They met again through church when he was 21.
"And now I’ve got three kids," he says with a grin.
Doug’s 9-year-old son and his daughters, 8 and 7, have grown up with Julie’s 9-year-old son and 6-year-old twin girls. Julie and Lisa swap taxi duties, and "Grammy" (Jane) reads in the kids’ classrooms.
To the family, Brad is simply another Pitt kid. He and his wife are as much a part of the family as anyone. He’ll drop anything, they say, when he’s needed, like last summer when Jane’s mother died. Brad and Jennifer flew in the next morning.
A few years ago, they made a surprise visit for Thanksgiving. Last November, Jane and Bill drove to California for the holiday.
When Doug, Julie and families visit in California, Uncle Brad spoils his nieces and nephews. To the kids, he’s just fun Uncle Brad who plops on the floor to play.
"He’s their personal play gym. They climb all over him. He’s a big kid," Doug says.
"He is all about them," agrees Julie. "He hates to have his hair brushed, but he lets those girls brush his hair, and put makeup on him and nail polish on his fingernails and toenails. He is crazy mad about them."
The kids know their aunt and uncle are "famous," says Lisa, but they don’t comprehend what famous is.
Julie sheltered her kids from Brad’s fame as long as she could. She wanted them to know her brother as uncle first, actor second. Aunt Jen, too. One time the twins were confused to see her on a "Friends" promotional.
"Is that Aunt Jen the same as OUR Aunt Jen?" one asked her mother.
Hollywood actors like Brad are catered to, says his father: "It’s awfully easy to lose your sense of self-worth."
Bill thinks the family helps keep Brad grounded.
"We all abuse him tremendously," he jokes. "Nobody cuts him any slack."
The best times, says Jane, are when her kids are together.
"There are a lot of families that can’t stand each other," she says. "They can’t even spend the holidays together. And we look forward to getting together for anything."
Guy next door
Doug is friendly, yet, while not exactly reluctant to talk about his life, he seems hesitant to appear ostentatious — downplaying his own accomplishments and certainly things his family enjoys because of his brother.
His personal interests vary. He’s active in church and loves sports, especially basketball at Southwest Missouri State University where he graduated in 1990. He hunts with friends — which he says is mostly about hanging with the guys.
He’s a loyal friend, says Todd Edwards, Doug’s best friend since they were 4: "He’s the epitome of what every guy wants in a friend."
Doug, Julie and Rob are staunch NASCAR fans. Those interests and more are reflected in Doug’s office, a three-dimensional scrapbook. A football signed by Tom Osborne sits on a shelf; photos autographed by NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon hang on the wall. Another photo was signed by John Ashcroft.
And then there’s Brad. In addition to pictures of Lisa and his kids, Doug’s shelves include an enlarged snapshot with his brother, and a boxed "King of the Hill" doll — a gift from Brad, who, like Doug, is a fan.
Awards adorn the walls — a sign of Doug’s volunteer activities. He’s served on dozens of nonprofit boards and committees, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He helps raise funds each year for worthy Springfield causes and has spearheaded public school-related drives. He was named the city’s Gift of Time recipient in 2003 for civic and community betterment. For 1999-2000, ServiceWorld was named the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s W. Curtis Strube Small Business of the Year.
"Doug is ethically driven," says Stacey Hammit, a fiercely loyal friend for the last 10 years. "He makes good choices and donates his time and effort."
In his opinion, Doug is as successful as his brother.
"They just happen to have two different lifestyle and career choices," Hammit says. "Doug is as active in the community and the business world, and is just as accomplished as his brother is in the acting world."
Doug’s father agrees.
"What you see is what you get," Bill says. "I get as many compliments from people in the community on Doug as I do on Brad. … If you can’t like Doug, you can’t like anybody."
People might be surprised to discover Doug is creative, adds Hammit. Doug plays that down, calling himself a "frustrated" photographer and writer.
"I’m just a hack," he drawls good-naturedly, though he’s been published for both. Writing is a private passion he’s reluctant to discuss, though he’s happy to swap photography tips and show off his new toy, a digital Canon Rebel. His favorite photo subject: his kids.
Doug takes his children to Apple Butter Makin’ Days, a favorite childhood festival. Several weeks ago, he took his little girls to Artsfest.
Her son is not only a good dad, says Jane, he "covers all the bases." One day he planned a trip to the zoo and asked his mother along.
"So I kick into mom mode and think I’d better pack this and do that," Jane says.
It wasn’t necessary.
"Doug had packed lunches for a picnic, he had cut up watermelon. He had veggies. I went, ‘Whoa.’"
He didn’t always balance work and home so well, Lisa says. Building a business requires long hours.
"It’s hard for men to find the balance," says Lisa who, like Doug, has a strong faith. "We prayed for years that he would find the balance. And I think truthfully, honestly, he has found it."
He’s good about getting home early, Lisa says. On one recent night, Doug arrives home just as his son rides up on his bike with a friend. Lisa’s out front with their new puppy, Ugg.
Everyone heads inside. Lisa stirs potatoes on the stove, preparing dinner as Doug trades work clothes for casual to play with the kids before everyone scatters.
Too many activities this night prevent Doug from taking a 30-minute ride on his Harley — a favorite way to unwind.
Sometimes he rides by the south Springfield house he grew up in.
Early Pitt stop
Brad was born in Shawnee, Okla., and Doug and Julie in St. Louis. Bill’s work brought them to Springfield when Doug was about 3.
Jane remembers how inquisitive Doug was: "Everything was hypothetical. ‘Now what would happen if …?’"
Even then, he loved to sell things. "He had neighbors who loved him," Jane says laughing, "and he would sell them dead June bugs."
Like any two brothers, Brad and Doug had squabbles. Three years apart, they didn’t really share friends. But easygoing Doug was usually willing to follow big brother’s lead.
"Like with Mighty Mites, when Brad had things to sell, he’d send Doug up ahead," Jane says. "Doug never hesitated."
When the family skied at Vail, she recalls, "Brad would send Doug down a hill, and if he didn’t break his neck, well then, (Brad) would try it."
Brad also watched out for his brother, recalls Todd — who was a fixture at the Pitt house. He and Doug were freshmen when Brad was a senior at Kickapoo High School in 1982.
"We used Brad to get to know all the varsity cheerleaders in school," Todd recalls, grinning. "Brad was very popular."
When Julie got to high school, Doug’s protective nature kicked into high gear.
"When it came to dating," Julie recalls, "he was the worst ever. … I’m not kidding you, he was worse than my father. He showed up on my first date, at the same movie. Very coincidental."
Doug and Brad always had fun together and spoke the same language, Jane recalls.
They still do, says Todd. While each lives a completely different lifestyle, "when they’re together, it’s hard to intrude … they’re so bonded."
Doug says he and his brother run around Los Angeles and ride Brad’s ATVs when he visits. They’re both daredevils, say family members.
At public events, Brad is bombarded with people who vie for his attention. Doug’s favourite time is when they just "veg out."
"We hang out with cappuccinos and shoot the breeze."
Brad left the University of Missouri for L.A. to attend art and design school.
Or so he told his family.
"We found out months later he was doing auditions and commercials," Doug recalls. Brad got sitcom guest spots, then a recurring role on "Dallas." The family was excited.
When Doug was about 21, he moved out to live with his brother for six months as Brad shot his first movie, which wasn’t released in theaters.
Then Brad attracted a small furor with his role in "Thelma and Louise" (1991). But it wasn’t until "A River Runs Through It" (1992) and "Legends of the Fall" (1994) that America caught Brad fever, and the Pitts’ lives changed.
The early days were hardest, say Doug and his family. For most people in Springfield, Brad’s fame is old hat now. Back then, people went crazy and Doug was averaging eight Brad-related calls a night.
"Kids were calling. Adults were calling. It was a freak show," he says. "People thought they needed to get reacquainted. To me it was insane. Then people started coming to the house and that changed everything for me. I wasn’t so nice and civil anymore."
For Julie, seeing her brother treated like a "piece of meat" was the hardest. When her son and Doug’s were about 2 years old, they all visited Brad in New York.
"(They) were getting to that really fun age, and we were in FAO Schwarz where they were into the toys. We went with Brad and Gwennie (Paltrow)."
As soon as Brad stepped in the door, he was immediately swarmed.
"I’d never seen anything like it. It was a magnet," she says.
It was so bad, her brother left.
"I was really bummed because he couldn’t share in his nephews. I mean, he didn’t get to see them very often and they were so fun, and loving that store. (Brad) didn’t get to be a part of it."
Only the closest friends hear about the glamourous side of being a Pitt. Yes, Doug acknowledges, there are privileges.
A couple months ago, Julie and Rob got to be extras on "Friends."
Last year, Doug met Andy Garcia, an actor he’d long admired. Doug and Lisa went to two premieres, including "Ocean’s Eleven," where they sat behind Julia Roberts. The highlight (for Lisa, anyway) was meeting George Clooney.
Doug’s favorite encounter is nearly a dozen years old: sitting around a campfire having breakfast with Anthony Hopkins during the filming of "Legends." He’d gone to Canada for a week to hang out with Brad on the set. Framed photos from the shoot hang in his office.
Friends are unimpressed.
"It’s such a nonissue with them. That’s why they’re our friends," Doug says.
Casual friends, too, leave the subject alone. Baseball parents have more important things to ponder — like whether their kid gets a hit.
"I wouldn’t want people invading my privacy. I’m not going to invade theirs," says team parent Cindy Gingerich. "If they want to talk about it — fine."
Doug and his family rarely comment on Brad’s life.
"What is Brad’s success is his success and we don’t try to step in his limelight. We stay out of it and let him do his thing," says Bill.
"If Brad and Jen haven’t said it," explains Doug, "it doesn’t need to be said."
Today, the Pitts have stopped collecting magazine stories. There are too many. When Julie and Rob cleaned out their garage recently, they pitched a whole pile.
Family members try to ignore the tabloids but admit they’re a source of irritation.
"Especially when I know it’s so baloney," Jane says.
They try to stay as close as they can. Family is what it’s all about, Bill says.
"All three of the kids … they still like each other, and still communicate with each other," Bill says, "and are still good friends."