Barbara Brownell, writer/performer of Finding My Light, Finding Me, on the family secret
I asked Barbara what incident inspired her show.
In her even, resonant voice, she said, “I was at my father Arnie Brownell’s funeral. My cousin came up to me and said that it was really nice of my dad to ‘adopt’ me.
“That was a complete shock. I wondered what in the world made him think that.
“Then I remembered when I was just five years old, my grandmother had told me that my mom had cheated on my dad and that Arnie was not my father.
“But my grandmother was a crazy woman. She told me stories that her brother had been poisoned, sat up in his coffin, pointed at his wife, and said, ‘She did it.’
“So I went running to my mom and said, ‘Grandma Cora said my dad isn’t my dad!’ My mom pointed out that grandma was an evil storyteller, so I dismissed it.
“But it flared up in my mind when my cousin said that I was adopted.
“Then I did some research. My aunt, my father’s sister, said, ‘Oh yeah, I wondered if you were my brother’s baby. Your mom was a round-heeled woman.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’
“She said, ‘Well, she was known to be very popular.’
“I took a DNA test and sure enough, it came back that I was only 49.99% related to my siblings.
“I set out to find out who my biological father was.
“I had a very traumatic childhood – there was a lot of abuse. Yet I had taken so much value in my name, Barbara Brownell.
“When I was about eight years old, I saw that Bobby Brownell was in a show called Gypsy on Broadway.
“I thought to myself, ‘Hey, if Bobby Brownell made it to Broadway, then Barbara Brownell can too!’ My belief system really helped and spurred me on.
In her low-key way, Barbara landed another bombshell. She said, “I was nailed shut in a closet as a child. But, I had known that Susan B. Anthony was Susan Brownell Anthony.
“Something inside of me said, ‘I’ve got those genes, so I can get through this. I’ve got those Brownell genes in me.’
“Luckily I did not know that I didn’t have those genes. By the time I found out I wasn’t a Brownell, I was established and doing well. And I actually have been on Broadway.”
I said, “That’s fascinating. What a testament to the power of imagination.”
Barbara added, “Imagination and belief.
“My Brownell siblings all have not had functioning lives – there was an attempted suicide, and I have a sister who was constantly making up illnesses. I have been helping and supporting my siblings my whole life either emotionally or financially.”
We switched gears for a moment. I asked, “What does it mean to you to be a woman in 2023?”
“In my career, I had to do a lot of T&A parts, you know, pushing up the boobs. In more recent years, because of the growth that has happened for women, I’ve been able to play substantial roles, like the head of the American Cancer Society in Mad Men.
“When I think back to my mother’s situation in 1943, she was pregnant with me and had to get married. If my children were in that situation, they would not have to get married.
“It’s pretty incredible to be a woman in 2023.
I asked Barbara, “What is something that might surprise people about you?”
“Actors spend a lot of time not acting. I looked at what was important to me, and what could make my life valuable.
“I had been very ill and I’d gone to doctors who couldn’t find out what it was. Someone suggested I go to a hypnotherapist and imagine my immune system working well. My goodness, that turned me around.
“I studied, and now I’m a certified hypnotherapist and a Reiki Master. People who are either in a lot of pain or need to lose weight or get on a plane – I help them.”
To read more about Barbara click here.