Ann Brebner, who was one of the Bay Area’s leading figures in the film scene and has had a long-time presence in the Marin County theater, passed away at the age of 93 on Friday at her home in San Rafael, California. She worked for George Lucas and was a part of the first looks for his Star Wars script.
Even though she was a successful casting agent for the film industry, she considered herself a theater person first. Brebner grew up and was raised by her single father in Timaru on New Zealand’s South Island. She attended the Old Vic in London on scholarship, met her husband, John Brebner and followed him to Marin County. They started a casting company, Brebner Agencies Inc./San Francisco Casting, and founded the Marin Shakespeare Festival, which was revived years later after it closed by the Marin Shakespeare Company and continues today.
She found working as a casting director in the Bay Area a success due to Hollywood discovering the location was a good place to shoot films. Through the 1960’s and 1970’s, her agency worked with the directors on casting and/or scouting on shows and films such as Harold and Maude, Bullitt, The Streets of San Francisco, American Graffiti, and Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run. She also helped cast Escape from Alcatraz and The Right Stuff.
Brebner also helped launch the film careers of actors like Peter Coyote, Danny Glover, and Kathleen Quinlan, to name a few.
“I would not have a career if Ann Brebner hadn’t taken a gamble on me. I came into her office with no SAG card, no AFTRA card, nothing but hunger and belief in myself, which she chose to share. All my good luck – everything – stems from her initial act of faith in me.” – Peter Coyote
American Graffiti was not the only time she worked with the young George Lucas. She had cast actors for his first film THX 1138 as well. Then he called her to help:
“In 1975 George called me to tell me he had completed writing a first draft of a movie [then known as] The Star Wars. He asked whether I would arrange a reading of it. He brought me a script, we went through some ideas about casting, and I brought together a group of actors together. The reading took place in one of my conference rooms, in San Francisco in late August 1975. When George packed up the scripts to take them home, I asked if I could keep mine. He agreed, but I was not to let anyone else read it. I kept that promise. ‘My’ copy has been in my office ever sent.”
After leaving her casting company in the early 1980’s, she joined the board of the Mill Valley Film Festival in San Rafael. One of her projects included a campaign to restore the old San Rafael movie theater in to the now Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, which opened in 1999, serving as the home of the festival and the California Film Institution.
During the 6 years it took to complete this project, Brebner would not let anything get in her way. Coworker Jean Taylor remembers:
“At one point, the whole board said, ‘Let’s give up on it,’ But Ann was a trooper. She stood solid She said, ‘No we’re doing this.’ She [even] once had all of us neighbors standing on the street corner with coffee cans, asking people passing to contribute a dollar.”
She spent her 90th birthday at an afternoon party and tribute at Lucas’ Skywalker ranch in Nicasio. During an onstage interview at the event, she was asked what advice she would give her 9-year-old self.
“Do what’s in your heart, not what your head thinks you should do.”
Ann Brebner is survived by her son, Alexander.