Academy Award winning producer launched her career at The Olympian

March 6, 2011 

Before Audrey Marrs had even walked off the stage clutching her first Academy Award last Sunday night, The Olympian's former classified advertising manager, Mike Leonard, was already on the phone, leaving me a voice mail.

“Did you know Audrey used to work at The Olympian!” he shouted into my digital ear.

It’s true. The fashionable former Tumwater High School graduate actually worked at this newspaper four different times during the period she studied studio art at The Evergreen State College and simultaneously immersed herself in the city’s famous indie music scene.

“I sort of came back several times, whenever I needed a job,” she told me over the telephone last week. “Mike (Leonard) and (classified advertising supervisor) Jeanene Balukoff hired me right out of high school, and gave me a chance. They are significant people in my life.”

Now that Audrey has won an Oscar as producer of the best documentary “Inside Job,” we can understand that she might not remember her first award came from The Olympian as “Telephone Salesperson of the Year.” I’m sure the paper certificate we gave her is right up there on the mantel next to her Oscar.

Balukoff, who still greets readers in our Bethel Street lobby, remembers Audrey as always being “very fashionably dressed.” On her third time back at The Olympian, Audrey had begun her black phase. Balukoff doesn’t remember her wearing anything but black, so, “I am not surprised that at both Academy Award nominations she chose black for her gowns.”

Balukoff also remembers Audrey as quite soft-spoken. “So imagining her in a punk band was hard. I wouldn’t have believed it except she gave us a CD!”

For Audrey’s part, she says Balukoff’s “incredible work ethic” taught her how to manage in her first adult job.

When she wasn’t working at The Olympian, playing in all-girl punk bands or studying art at Evergreen, she was quite possibly babysitting Mike and Kathy Leonard’s children. But what Leonard remembers about Audrey was his own jealously because she knew Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, one of his favorite bands.

Audrey wasn’t the only one in her family to work at The Olympian. Her mother, Mariko, did advertising layouts for customers from the late 1980s through 1995. And it was from her mother that Audrey credits her sense of fashion and creative drive.

“My mother was and still is – without trying very hard – a fashionable woman,” Audrey said.

Mariko always painted at home while working or raising her family. After The Olympian, she moved to Seattle to teach at the Children’s Museum there, which inspired her to explore her own art full time. She sells her work through her website, about which one online blogger said will make you weep because you weren’t born into this creative family.

And, of course, she’s a proud mom.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Mariko said. “Maybe in the past when she was in her 20s, I was wondering where she was headed in life, But once she hit her 30s, her ambitions started to become clearer. Now with all this, I have a lot to tease her about, and we’re having fun laughing together.”


The connection between Oprah Winfrey and Olympia continues to grow. I reported last month that local actor Charlie Frank appeared on the Oprah show in a tribute to soap star Susan Lucci. Frank played Lucci’s first on-screen husband in the show “All My Children.” On Sunday it was Oprah who presented the Academy Award to Olympia native Audrey Marrs on the worldwide broadcast. ... Here’s another Olympia success story that involves our Oscar winning “it” girl. Audrey has designed and drawn two articles of clothing for the online retailer buyolympia. com. The company formed in July 1999 in a small apartment in downtown Olympia, but they grew so rapidly – boasting of a global customer base – they moved to Portland and in October of 2009 opened a retail store and gallery there.

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or  

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