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Obituaries

Rand Brooks, 84; Actor Had Roles in Westerns, 'Gone With the Wind'

September 04, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Rand Brooks, who played Scarlett O'Hara's ill-fated first husband in "Gone With the Wind," the young sidekick in a string of Hopalong Cassidy westerns and Cpl. Boone in the television series "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," has died. He was 84.

Brooks, who began phasing out his acting career in the mid-1960s when he launched a successful Glendale-based ambulance service, died of cancer Monday at his home in Santa Ynez.

In an acting career that began at MGM in 1938 with an uncredited bit part in Mickey Rooney's "Love Finds Andy Hardy," Brooks appeared in scores of films, including "Babes in Arms" with Rooney and Judy Garland, "Northwest Passage," "Requiem for a Gunfighter," "The Cimarron Kid" and a dozen Hopalong Cassidy films in which he played Lucky Jenkins opposite William Boyd.

He also had the distinction of giving Marilyn Monroe her first on-screen kiss, in the 1948 film "Ladies of the Chorus."

Brooks appeared frequently on television in the 1950s and early '60s, especially in westerns, including "The Lone Ranger," "Gunsmoke" and "Maverick." And, from 1954 to 1959, he appeared on "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," the popular western series about an orphaned boy and his heroic German shepherd who are adopted by cavalry soldiers.

Lee Aaker, who played the boy, Rusty, said Wednesday that he was "very close" to Brooks, who served as an on-set mentor.

"He was such a nice guy," Aaker said. "And he, more than anyone else, would call me aside if I stepped out of line and calmly tell me how to handle it a little differently."

On film, Brooks achieved his greatest -- and most enduring -- claim to fame playing Charles Hamilton, the shy young Southern gentleman whom the fiery Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) impulsively marries after Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) announces he is going to marry sweet Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland).

Brooks once recalled that when Scarlett learned that her young Confederate Army officer husband had died not on the battlefield but of "pneumonia following an attack of the measles," it provoked "the biggest laugh in the film."

"To think that a man his age would die from the measles -- it was pretty funny," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1981.

In a later interview with the Associated Press, Brooks said he despised his role as Scarlett's mild-mannered husband.

"It was an asinine part," he said. "I wanted to be more macho."

Born Sept. 21, 1918, in St. Louis to a wealthy family that later lost its money during the Depression, Brooks moved to Los Angeles with his mother when he was 4.

A Beverly Hills High School graduate, he was working as a runner at a Los Angeles brokerage house when an agent discovered him and MGM signed him to a $50-a-week contract.

"He was a natural -- an instinctive actor," said Ann Rutherford, who met Brooks on the set while playing Rooney's girlfriend, Polly Benedict, in the Hardy films. She later worked with Brooks in "Gone With the Wind," in which she played Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister Carreen.

"He was wonderful casting for the role of Charles Hamilton, this hapless young man who valiantly offered to fight a duel with Rhett Butler," Rutherford told The Times on Wednesday. "It was so dear."

Rutherford, who renewed her close friendship with Brooks in the 1980s, said he was always recognized in public -- even when she and her husband accompanied Brooks and his wife on a barge trip on the Seine and she and Brooks were both approached by French "Gone With the Wind" fans.

"He said to me, 'Somewhere in time, we'll always be young,' " she recalled.

In an interview with the Toronto Star in 1986, Brooks said he considered himself a "good working actor."

"I loved to work, loved to act, but acting doesn't make for a secure, happy life," he said. "You may not work for six months, then you get three offers at the same time. You pick one and as sure as shootin', it's the wrong one!"

Brooks, who served in the Army Air Forces during World War II, directed and produced a movie about brave dogs, "Bearheart," in the mid-1960s.

But to his great disappointment and financial loss, it was not released because it reportedly became tied up in litigation when Brooks' business manager was charged with numerous counts of forgery and graft involving several clients.

In 1966, Brooks started Professional Ambulance Service in Glendale with two used ambulances and a credit card.

A decade later, he could boast that it had become "the largest private paramedic provider in Los Angeles County."

Brooks sold his ambulance company in 1994 and moved to the Santa Ynez Valley, where he bred championship Andalusian horses with his second wife, Hermine. His first wife was Lois Laurel, daughter of screen legend Stan Laurel.

He is survived by his wife; two children, Rand Brooks III of Reseda and Laurel Brooks of Oregon; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Forest Lawn, Glendale.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara or the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement home and hospital in Woodland Hills.

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