Column: Hey, Brad Pitt, we went to school together


Dear Brad Pitt:

You probably don’t remember me, but we went to college together, at the University of Missouri’s journalism school. You famously lost your mind and skipped out a few credits shy of graduation to pursue some crazy dream of becoming an actor, while I sensibly got my diploma and pursued a glamorous and highly lucrative career in print journalism.

More than 30 years later, here we both are in L.A. What are the odds, right?

It’s OK if you don’t remember me; I don’t remember you either. I won’t lie — when “Thelma and Louise” came out in 1991, and you became a star, my college friends and I all suddenly believed we most certainly remembered you. One said you had been in graphics class with us — remember all those conversations about creative white space and how we had to design our own stationery? Another insisted you were in one of the big classes Don Ranly taught — can you name any of his 10 comma rules?

Brad Pitt and Geena Davis in a scene from the 1991 movie "Thelma and Louise."

Sometimes I think I have a memory of you, a cute frat boy in a polo shirt with the collar flipped up under a rugby shirt, but honestly, there were so many of those at Mizzou in the early ’80s that I’m probably making it up. Chances are good our paths did not cross often. You and I are the same age (not that this bothered me at all when you stripped to the waist in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” and managed to look like you were still in your late 20s), but you were a year behind me. More important, you were in advertising. I was in print, and those of us in print were super-snobby, particularly about those in advertising, which we didn’t consider part of journalism at all. At least not a serious part.


Now, of course, we do. Now, we know advertising is very serious, and we weep for those big, beautiful full-page ads, those columns of classifieds that kept us in business. Like Ebenezer Scrooge contemplating Bob Cratchit, we wish we had been a bit more appreciative. Especially at Oscar time, when for a brief and shining moment, a tiny portion of those big ads return. So thanks for that, for being in movies with campaigns that include what is now known as legacy media. You’re still supporting journalism in your own way, and we appreciate it.

Still, maybe we did know each other, even if neither of us remembers it. Maybe we chatted briefly over a keg of Busch at some party or at happy hour at the Heidelberg or over Long Island iced teas at Harpo’s. There were certainly a lot of those moments; in ranking the top 10 party schools, Playboy once marked Mizzou with an asterisk and wrote, “We don’t rank professionals.” (Congratulations on getting sober, by the way. I did too more than 20 years ago; maybe all those Long Island iced teas weren’t such a great idea after all.)

Even if we didn’t, it’s been fun watching your career, knowing that we both spent time on the same campus, which means we both know what the Columns are and remember how cool the Shack was before they tore it down. It’s been slightly irritating to see you ranked among the school’s most notable alumni, even though you didn’t graduate, while those of us who still labor in actual journalism are, well, less notable. I won a Pulitzer a few years back, but even at Mizzou that pales when compared to an Oscar, which everyone agrees you are likely to win this year.

I very much hope you do. I was not a fan of “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” (and I have the outraged emails to prove it), but you did great work in it. More than that, you’ve managed to balance a highly scrutinized personal life with a productive and ever-deepening career that includes both a commitment to various environmental and humanitarian organizations and an ability to make snappy acceptance speeches. These are indeed very notable qualities.

Brad Pitt, as cowboy charmer, in "Thelma and Louise."

My son is at the Mizzou journalism school, by the way, in the documentary program, and he’s set to graduate this year. While I very much hope and expect he will, I also hope he has the courage and conviction to pursue his dreams wherever they lead him. It takes a lot of guts for a boy from Springfield, Mo., to pull up stakes and fling himself at Hollywood, where good-looking guys with movie star smiles are thick on the ground, many of them with long-established industry connections.

I couldn’t have done it; in fact, I didn’t do it. My professional dreams were shaped by the jobs I got, rather than the other way around. It worked out fine, but sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had been less afraid of failing, if I had been brave enough to suddenly change course and see what would happen.

I hope you win that Oscar, but even if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. You made the J-school proud in your own and very notable way. Mizzou-RAH.