The real Prospector Pete — the man who posed for the beleaguered CSULB statue — tells his story

The Forty-Niner Prospector Pete statue at Cal State Long Beach. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova, Press-Telegram /SCNG)
The Forty-Niner Prospector Pete statue at Cal State Long Beach. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova, Press-Telegram /SCNG)
Anthony Brennan, 83, posed for Prospector Pete in the 1960s. (Courtesy photo)
Anthony Brennan, 83, posed for Prospector Pete in the 1960s. (Courtesy photo)

Prospector Pete doesn’t care about the cartoonish mascot version of him. In fact, he says, “I’m 100 percent in favor of getting rid of him. But not the statue. The university has to keep the statue.”

Anthony Brennan is Prospector Pete, the beleaguered mascot of Cal State Long Beach. He’s 83 now, living with his schoolteacher wife in Sebastopol. In the 1960s, when he was a student at what was then Long Beach State College, his friend Ben Barker, a student sculptor, asked him to model for the statue that now sits on the university’s upper campus, “where it stands in representation of the school mascot and of the drive toward greatness,” according to the university’s web site. “The sculpture personifies the spirit of the 49er.”

Now, it’s under siege as the university considers dumping Prospector Pete (the sculpture is titled “The Forty-Niner Prospector”) because of the violence gold miners inflicted upon the Spanish, Native Americans and Chinese during the Gold Rush.

Brennan doesn’t overly care about the politics. He simply likes the statue.

“Glad you think Prospector Pete is valiant and ruggedly good-looking,” he wrote in an email after our column about the statue. Naturally, we had to give him a call.

Brennan was mostly used by Barker for Pete’s posture, not so much for his physical appearance, though there is some. Brennan had (and still has) a beard, as does Pete.

“One of the social groups on campus offered $1,000 for a sculpture that represented the 49ers,” said Brennan. “They got a dozen or so submissions, but they were all too abstract except for my friend Ben’s. He created it first in clay, which is where I participated, and it was lifesize, like the current statue, which is bronze. It eventually became the image for the college. It was on letterhead, everything. It became a substantial part of the college’s identity.”

Brennan’s story is epic. He was born in England in 1934 and grew up in a Sheffield slum during World War II. “I went to a slum school. I didn’t know anything, couldn’t do anything. My father was a bricklayer, my brother was a carpenter, and I had no skills whatsoever,” he says.

“I went to the Labour Exchange and they sent me to a job in a sugar factory doing quality control. I got fired. I went back to the Labour Exchange and they sent me to another sugar factory to do the same thing. That went on for several years.”

Brennan came to America in 1958. “I went to the employment office and they sent me to a paint company in South Gate,” he says. And for years he was in the paint business, eventually becoming the director of Southern California for Glidden Paint.

“My career was soaring, but all that time I felt sad because I still felt like I didn’t know anything. So I ended up at Long Beach State. I had no idea what I wanted to study, but a counselor put me down as a psychology major. My first semester I got all Ds.”

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Then, he discovered photography. “I was looking through the course catalog looking for something interesting, and I took a photography class. I enjoyed it so much, I took it again. I found other photography classes in the Art Department and in journalism. I took them all.”

Brennan eventually graduated and got a job teaching photography at the college.

In 1970, Stephen Horn became the university’s president. “I had made a film for one of the vice presidents at the university and Horn saw it and liked it and showed it to all the deans and department heads. Then, he turned to me and said ‘How would you like to do this full-time?’ This was literally during his first week at Cal State. He hired me on the spot and for 20 years I was the Director of Media at Cal State Long Beach.”

Brennan says it was “the most fabulous job in the world. I was my own boss, I just made films. I decided what films I wanted to make and I made them. I had total freedom.”

He retired in the early 1990s and followed his wife up to Northern California when she was hired to teach. He doesn’t spend much time thinking about “The Forty-Niner” sculpture for which he posed. In fact, he says, “I think you’re the first person I’ve told about it.”

Contact Tim Grobaty at 562-714-2116, tgrobaty@scng.com, @grobaty on Twitter.

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