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1970’s Charitable Frenzy Explained in ‘Dear Mr. Brody’ (Review)

In ‘Dear Mr. Brody,’ the latest documentary from director Keith Maitland (‘Tower’), we’re introduced to a seemingly well-intentioned 21-year-old named Michael James Brody Jr.

Brody caused a genuine national frenzy in 1970 when he announced he would be giving away his entire inheritance, allegedly worth $25 million or more, to people in need. He encouraged people to write him letters to let him know why they needed money. The plan was to distribute as much of it as he could for the betterment of society.

Or so the story goes.

Maitland attempts to uncover the bizarre backstory behind Brody’s giveaway by speaking to his widow, several friends, and multiple letter writers from the original campaign.

You see, Brody was quickly overwhelmed by the response to his quest to give away his fortune. In preparation for the documentary, Maitland and his team uncovered over 30,000 unopened letters that Brody had never even seen from over fifty years ago. They started the difficult task of trying to track people down for on-camera interviews to discuss their letters.

It’s a powerful concept. Some barely remember the entire experience. Others are reading letters that were written by family members. Many stories are from those who were experiencing dire straits, their unanswered letters a stark reminder of the harsh realities many faced then and now.

Bruce Stephen holds a letter in ‘Dear Mr. Brody.’ Photo: Greenwich Entertainment

When it comes to Brody, what seemed like a great idea becomes hazy. Was any of it real? Did he have the wealth he claimed? Was he a true philanthropist or just a drug-fueled hippie looking for attention? He certainly got it. From the news to appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, he provided a great story…until he didn’t.

Maitland’s film attempts to answer all of those questions and more. It’s a fascinating look at a mostly forgotten and unbelievable story from our not-too-distant past.

‘Dear Mr. Brody’ is playing now in select theaters and is also available to rent or buy from all digital providers. It is expected to stream later this year on Discovery+.

After you watch the movie, check out this Q&A from SXSW 2021

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