Late Photographer’s Sons Recount Tales of Father’s Connection to Missing Pilot
By JACQUELINE PRIMO | Assistant Managing Editor
Many have the experience of going through their aging or recently passed parents’ homes, sorting through a lifetime’s worth of clothes, furniture, miscellaneous knick-knacks and things collected over the years, all in preparation for selling the home or readying it for new residents.
Yet, it is safe to say that brothers Randy and Ed Bresnik had a unique experience during the year they took to go through their father’s house on Sunset Blvd. in Marquez Knolls. From January to December 2015, the pair traveled two days a week to the property from their homes in LA.
Their late father, longtime Palisadian Albert Louis Bresnik, was an avid photographer who built a career and a life around the art of photography. Among the tens of thousands of photographs and negatives his sons Randy and Ed uncovered when going through his house in the Palisades were portraits their father had taken of the missing—and declared dead—pilot Amelia Earhart.
“Evidently Amelia was more relaxed around him. He was her photographer. Anytime she was around and needed photos, she would call Dad,” Randy told the Palisadian-Post.
Earhart was one of the many pilots Albert would photograph with their airplanes in the 1930s. Albert, who was often taking photos at local airports around LA, formed a friendship with Earhart and would come to take many photos of her between 1932 and 1937 when she disappeared, keeping between 60 and 70 photos of her for customers, his sons explained.
Randy and Ed said their father Albert was considering going with Amelia on what would become her last flight—a second attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937—but Amelia told Albert, “I need 150 pounds of fuel more than I need 150 pounds of photographer,” the brothers told the Post.
Neither Albert nor anybody else ever saw Earhart again, and her disappearance remains one of the world’s greatest mysteries to this day. His sons remember how Albert kept photos of Earhart in a window of his photography shop in Hollywood, which he ran from 1937-1954 before opening Bresnik Studio and Photography on Swarthmore in the Village in 1967.
Albert’s photos of Earhart were some of the last ever taken of the famed pilot.
Born on Feb. 3 in 1914, Albert Bresnik attended Manual Arts High School before working for Columbia Pictures from 1932-1937. During this time, he took photos of such Hollywood stars as Mary Martin, Shirley Temple, Jane Withers and Palisadian Walter Matthau. He even reportedly introduced Clark Gable and Carole Lombard to one another.
Albert moved with his wife, Mary, and children, including Randy and Ed (born in 1937 and 1947, respectively), son Roger and daughter Dianne to Pacific Palisades in 1948. Randy was 10 years old and Ed was only 1 when the Bresniks moved to a lot on Sunset Blvd. where Albert first built a two-story, five-bedroom home. On the adjacent lot, which Albert also owned, he eventually built a single-story home with a movie room and a tennis court.
“That’s the house we really remember,” Ed told the Post.
The Bresniks’ home with a projection room—surely an unusual sight at the time, well before having a home theater was commonplace in the Palisades—was a gathering spot for neighborhood kids and the first choice of location for celebrations and gatherings, Ed added.
In 1954, Bresnik Studio and Photography moved from its first location, across from Hollywood High School, to Santa Monica before finally landing in the Palisades in 1967.
By the time Bresnik Studio was at its Palisades location on Swarthmore, Albert had expanded the shop to include selling camera equipment. And it was only to be expected that Albert’s children were brought up in the business—as well as in front of the camera at home.
“All of us grew up in the business,” Randy said, noting that brothers Randy, Roger and Ed worked at the store as they grew up. Additionally, Albert would take the kids out on wedding photo shoots and other photo sessions, teaching them how to take the photos and then develop and retouch them—long before the days of Photoshop.
Randy and Ed recalled a single upholstered chair Albert would use for all the baby pictures he took.
“Dad’s annual family portrait was Christmas cards,” Ed added with a laugh. “One year, we were in Santa’s sleigh, and our faces were on the reindeer going over the house,” he elaborated, describing his father’s retouching skills.
“He was such an artist,” Randy said. “He would take two or three photos and you would select out of that.”
Photos like these, family photos as well as photos of celebrities including Amelia Earhart, were among the negatives and photos Randy and Ed uncovered when going through their father’s house—a home which they said held 65 years worth of pictures, memories and old photos.
Between 10,000 and 12,000 photos and negatives were found in the Sunset home, Randy and Ed said, including more than 100 slide trays with 100 photos each, as well as projectors, cameras and other photography equipment.
The brothers said their father’s organizational system over the years included having a filing cabinet with current negatives of the past year or two and another filing cabinet with the past few years’ worth of negatives. Albert would move these negatives into large military boxes over time.
In addition to life as a photographer, Albert worked for North American Rockwell as an inspector and in a plastics factory in the afternoons. He was also a Reserve Beverly Hills police officer, part of Hollywood 20-30, the Pacific Palisades Optimist Club and the boating group Santa Monica Power Squadron.
But his experience photographing Earhart, among other pilots with their planes, must have been a dominant part of his DNA because Albert passed along the passion for flight to his sons and grandsons.
Randy was a pilot in the U.S. Army from 1964-1968 and worked at Long Beach Airport for 20 years. He was a Deputy Sheriff and flew helicopters with the LA Sheriffs Department, including many missions over to Catalina Island when needed, he said.
Randy’s son, also named Randy, now 49, was a military pilot and flew in Iraq in 2003. In 2004 the younger Randy Bresnik was taken into NASA as an astronaut.
In 2009, he was part of a crew that went to the International Space Station and he performed two space walks for a total of 11 hours outside of the space station. Randy will be space station commander for six months starting in November of 2017.
“My son took after me,” Randy said of his astronaut son, beaming with pride. “He said the hardest thing to do was to keep from looking down [while in space].”
Ed, who was in the first graduating class of Palisades Charter High School in 1965, worked for North American Rockwell for about 15 years in various programs, primarily working on the B-1 Bomber.
Albert’s first wife and the brothers’ mother Mary passed away in 1987. Albert remarried in 1988 at the age of 79. Although Albert died in in 1993, his second wife Gabrielle lived in the home on Sunset for 22 years until she died in September 2014.
In addition to the photographs, equipment and negatives the brothers turned up while going through their father’s house, Randy said they were able to identify the Graflex camera Albert used to photograph Amelia Earhart.
“They told a lot of interesting stories about their dad, which made it enjoyable to work with them,” said Jon Cates, a realtor with Coldwell Banker, who said selling the Sunset house and working with the Bresnik brothers was one of the most memorable homes and client experiences he has ever had.
Cates said Randy and Ed made sure “all of [Albert’s] photographs and belongings were distributed thoughtfully to family, friends, charities and auction houses. After 11 months the house was completely cleaned out, put on the market and received 11 offers.”
“They’re both uniquely different and interesting,” Cates said of Randy and Ed. “They’re great guys. They’re awesome.”
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