Dr. Charles F. Brass: Solana Beach physician to early movie stars

Dr. Charles F. Brass: Solana Beach physician to early movie stars
Dr. Charles Frederick Brass started his Solana Beach medical practice in 1948 and was the personal physician to many famous residents of nearby Del Mar Courtesy photo

DEL MAR — Thanks to her dad, Dr. Charles Frederick Brass, Louise Abbott spent many of her younger years in Del Mar hanging around such celebrities as Desi Arnaz and Jimmy Durante.

That’s because her dad was the personal physician to Arnaz and Durante, among others including actors Victor Mature, Robert Young and Alan Ladd over the span of a 38-year career.

“Even though he was my step-dad, he was really my dad in every sense of the word and he was beloved by many,” said Louise Abbott, 67, a real estate broker who resides in Solana Beach.

“He said his specialty was ‘the skin and contents’; back then it was known as a general practice, it is now known as family practice,” she said. “He delivered more than 5,000 babies over his 38 years as a doctor.”

“I remember he was always busy, and was hardly ever home, he was either delivering babies, taking care of a patient, going to a Kiwanis meeting, or at the Solana Beach Fire Department, or doing something at the chamber of commerce, or doing something in the community … He also brought paramedics to San Dieguito,” she said.

Growing up in Solana Beach

Growing up in Solana Beach, among three siblings, Abbott was the middle child. Her dad opened his practice in Solana Beach in 1948, and provided medical care to the area, which included Del Mar until he retired in 1986.

He was born in Calexico because his mother was visiting her sister there. His father was a journeyman carpenter and his mother a teacher. Abbott said while her dad enjoyed being a physician, he might have preferred becoming a carpenter like his dad.

A portrait of Dr. Charles Frederick Brass painted by his cousin. Courtesy photo

“His mom, a graduate of Stanford, was a math teacher at San Dieguito High School and she always insisted on him becoming a doctor,” Abbott said. “He didn’t have much choice.”

As for schooling, her father was a graduate of what was San Diego State at the time, then Berkeley and finally USC. Abbott said her dad was a “gifted diagnostician” who was known for making important diagnoses.

“He never took credit for his diagnoses; he always said it was a ‘gift from God,’” she said,

And because of this gift, Brass became well known in various medical circles in Solana Beach and was later referred by colleagues to several Hollywood stars who visited, as well as lived in the area, such as Arnaz.

“He was Desi Arnaz’s personal doctor for years,” she recalled. “I remember he got a call in the middle of the night once. Desi was in Baja and partying when a balcony collapsed under him and he got a huge hematoma; they didn’t know if he was going to live. My dad was called ‘Ship to Shore,’ and he ended up hiring a pilot, and he flew down to bring Desi back to Scripps La Jolla. He ended up saving his life and became his lifelong friend.”

Doctor to other stars

In additional to serving as Arnaz’s doctor, Abbott said her dad was also the one who “pronounced actor Alan Ladd dead” in 1964. Reports say he died of cerebral edema caused by accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol. Brass, according to his daughter, was also summoned to confirm the death of the  Swami Paramahansa Yogananda. According to Wikipedia, in 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda founded the Self-Realization Fellowship after coming from India as a representative for the international congress of religions and wanted to bring the great teachings of meditation to Americans.

Another popular star at the time, Robert Young, of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” (1969-1976) fame who lived in Rancho Santa Fe was also a patient of her dad’s.

“I was told by my dad that Young’s TV show was actually patterned after my dad,” she said. “He was a patient of dad’s for a long time and he also took care of his wife.”

Of course, the list of famous patients doesn’t stop there. Abbott said that Victor Mature, best known for his role in the Cecil B. DeMille film, “Samson and Delilah,” (1969) and another Rancho Santa Fe resident was also a patient of Dr. Brass’s.

“We used to call him ‘liver lips’ because he would drive around in his convertible and wave to all the girls,” she laughed. “I think we called him that because his lips were so dark, and they looked weird.”

Fun for all

Abbott said when she was growing up it was not uncommon for her to hang out with her dad and these various celebrities at their homes in Del Mar socially since Solana Beach was the next city over.

“We’d go to Desi’s house in Del Mar a lot and it was always fun, there were always lots of people,” she said. “But I was never really starstruck by celebrities, they put their pants on just like everyone else.”

She said her dad was also friends with and the personal physician of comedian Jimmy Durante, who lived in a house a few doors down on the beach in Del Mar from Arnaz.

“He was a nice man, of course, bigger than life and with this huge nose,” she recalled. “I remember he and his wife Madge adopted a little girl back then …”

Louise Abbot holds her father’s hand while he drives his Alfa Romero once owned by Rita Hayworth. Courtesy photo

The Alfa Romeo

Other star connections included her dad owning an Alfa Romeo once owned by actress Rita Hayworth when she was married to Ali Kahn. Abbott said she doesn’t remember how her dad got the car, but she does remember that “it burned when her dad’s garage caught on fire in 1978.”

They thought it was beyond repair, but someone bought it and took it to repair it. That’s the last she recalled of it.

However, it was Arnaz, of all the celebrities, who became a good friend of her dad’s.

“He was truly a wonderful man who was very intelligent,” she said. “My dad never had Lucille Ball as a patient, but he did work on their daughter, Lucy. My dad became friends with Desi when he was married to his second wife, Edy, who of course was a redhead, too. She was married prior to the owner of Kal Kan dog food before marrying Desi.”

Abbott said one thing that most people might not know about Arnaz was that he was a big philanthropist.

“Desi would see things that bothered him like families that needed money and he’d call my dad and ask him to see that they got what they needed but only anonymously,” she said. “He was truly a wonderful man who cared about others and my dad respected his wishes and did what he asked.”

She said she has kept in touch with Desi Jr., who now resides Nevada.

Abbott said they were friends for years until Arnaz died in 1986 in Del Mar of lung cancer.

A dad to remember

As for her father, he died in 2002 at the age 83 of natural causes. Dr. Brass spent his free time buying, maintaining commercial property, homes and duplexes in the area and simply enjoying life.

“I started my real estate career managing mom and dad’s properties and got my license in 1978 and broker’s license in 1984,” she said. “My dad lived hard and played hard. He loved to fish and hunt, and he was always active doing something.

“And he really loved being a doctor even though he would have loved to have been a carpenter or a contractor like his father.”

Abbott said she only has fond memories of her dad: “Really, my dad was truly a great man and a great doctor,” she said. “I miss him a lot.”

1 Comment
  1. Sherri Neefe 2 weeks ago

    Nice article and a small piece of local celebrity history.

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