By Cypress Cove Resident Robert Runck
Over the course of her life, Rusty Brown has forged two distinctly different careers, as a journalist/columnist/author, then as an actor/ playwright. She has been passionate about her body of work. “It’s been a great experience with no road not taken,” she quips. “I tried them all … loved them all!”
Rusty was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in the suburb of Lakewood. She recalls walking to school during all the grades up through high school, collecting friends along the way, until six or seven girls arrived as a group at the school door.
Her first experience on stage was in a grade-school reading of The Wind in the Willows, a children’s book by British author Kenneth Grahame. Rusty then wrote a play version of the story. She also expanded her theatre activity to performances in the local community center, whose director encouraged her.
Her high school English teacher was the first to call her by the nickname “Rusty.”
After graduation, she chose to attend Northwestern University because of its highly rated drama school. She majored in theater and minored in journalism. After college, she intended to audition for the Cleveland Playhouse, but decided instead, on a whim, to go down the street and apply for work at the Cleveland Press. There, she met her husband to be, Bill Tanner, developing a relationship based on a joint interest in playing tennis. She also wrote for several national magazines.
After marrying, the couple moved to Albuquerque, N.M., where Bill took the job of editor of the Albuquerque Tribune. For the paper, Rusty wrote a column on women’s concerns, an outgrowth of the women’s movement. It was subsequently syndicated nationally to 200 newspapers.
But she didn’t stop there.
Imagine the scandal in Paris when John Singer Sargent unveiled his portrait of socialite Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau at the Salon of 1884. In the painting, Ms. Gautreau is dressed demurely in a black gown, save for the shocking detail that one strap of her dress had slid down her shoulder. Tongues wagged, and he had to change it. (The ghostly image of the original strap position is still there.)
American painter Andrew Wyeth revealed that he had secretly been painting nudes of a woman named Helga, unbeknownst to everyone, including his wife! (This was suspected as a PR stunt by some.)
These were just two of the tales that Rusty Brown revealed in her show “Painted Women,” the true-life stories behind the artists and subjects of John Singer Sargent’s “Madame X,” Rembrandt’s “Bathsheba with the Letter of David,” Edgar Degas’ “Mary Cassatt at the Louvre,” Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga” collection, and Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “The Annunciation.”
Then Rusty discovered that little had been published on Mina Edison’s role in the community, and she was inspired to share that amazing woman’s contributions with an audience. So, she wrote a script that portrayed a tea at the Edison Home.
After a successful run with that show, Rusty wrote and performed a piece about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, author of Gift from the Sea, and sometime resident of Captiva. “Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s writing resonates with so many women,” says Rusty. “Ms. Lindbergh was one of the most powerful subjects I depicted. She affected millions of women by helping show how they could develop their individual talents.”
Further presentations by Rusty included a light-hearted depiction of humorous women, including Erma Bombeck, Rita Rudner and Anna Quindlen, entitled “What I Learned from Witty Women.”
Rusty has performed her shows all over Florida. Her husband Bill Tanner was instrumental in preparing for the shows. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” says Rusty. He assisted with editing the drafts, with props and with pre-show set-ups.
After moving to Cypress Cove, she has continued to perform, as co-MC of the 2019 Variety Show, and undertaking a number of joint readings of short plays and stories of interest to rapt Edison Hall audiences.
With her keen journalistic talent and creative energy, Rusty has developed her many talents, and audiences at Cypress Cove and elsewhere in Florida have been the lucky beneficiaries.