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Guy Webster - photo by Lisa Gizara @GizaraFineArts.com

Guy Webster – photo by Lisa Gizara @GizaraFineArts.com

For 75 years, the legendary photographer Guy Webster led a charmed existence. Then health problems laid him low, to the point where he could no longer operate a camera or ride his beloved motorcycles. Now he is willing himself toward recovery, and cultivating a philosophical detachment toward what he has lost, and reveling in the richness of what remains: his family, his friends, and his memories of a truly extraordinary life.

By Mark Lewis

Ojai has no shortage of raconteurs, but Guy Webster is in a class by himself. Walk by NoSo Vita in the morning and you’ll likely see him sitting there with a cup of coffee in his hand, holding forth for a table full of friends. Drop by the Porch Gallery on a Saturday evening to attend an art opening and there he’ll be, sitting on the veranda at the center of a group that is hanging on his every word. And he drew a big crowd on Aug. 14 at the Ojai Valley Museum to hear him talk about his world-famous collection of classic Italian motorcycles, five of which were on glorious display in the background.

Over time, this collection has totalled more than 350 bikes, but Guy has sold most of them off. Since suffering a stroke in April 2015, he walks with difficulty and he can’t ride at all. Embracing the rehabilitation challenge, he took himself from wheelchair to walker to cane. More recently he took a tumble that has set back his recovery process, but he still maintains a hectic travel schedule, and when in town he still makes the rounds. On the eve of his 77th birthday, he sat down with the Ojai Quarterly to reminisce about his life and career.


Guy Webster made his Hollywood debut at the age of 1 in November 1940, appearing in the hit film “You’ll Find Out,” which starred the popular bandleader Kay Kayser. The supporting cast included Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Bela Lugosi. According to the Internet Movie Database, Guy was cast as “an infant.” No screen credit, alas. But he did have one laugh line, of sorts: When someone asked him what he thought of Adolf Hitler, he stuck out his tongue and blew Hitler the raspberry.

“My father trained me to do that,” he says.

What had brought little Guy to a sound stage at such a tender age?  Blame it on another child actor, Shirley Temple. Several years earlier, the Fox studio had lured Guy’s father, the lyricist Paul Francis Webster, west from New York to write songs for Temple, then the biggest star in the world. Paul apparently only wrote one lyric for her – a lullaby she sang to her doll in “Our Little Girl” (1935). But he found Southern California very much to his liking, so he settled in Beverly Hills and became one of the movie industry’s most successful lyricists. Guy’s own film career ended where it began with “You’ll Find Out,” but his father went on to garner 16 Oscar nominations and three wins during his four-decade Hollywood career.

Working with such legendary composers as Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington, Paul Webster wrote the words for many hit songs, at least three of which are now considered standards — “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” and “Black Coffee,” both composed by Ellington, and “The Shadow of Your Smile,” composed by Johnny Mandel.

Hits were nice, but it was Paul’s film work, mostly for MGM, which financed his Beverly Hills lifestyle. He installed his family — wife Gloria, sons Guy and Roger — in a handsome, three-story Tudor Revival house on North Crescent Drive near the Beverly Hills Hotel. Still, everything is relative, even in Beverly Hills.

“I thought we were poor because we didn’t have a tennis court,” Guy says.

Guy was a serious-enough tennis player at Beverly Hills High School that he came up here to play in The Ojai Tennis Tournament — his first exposure to his future home.  But sports heroes did not inspire awe in Beverly Hills, where Guy’s peer group included many children of Hollywood celebrities who were also future stars themselves: Edgar Bergen’s daughter Candice, Danny Thomas’s daughter Marlo, Frank Sinatra’s daughter Nancy, Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli. Guy’s good friends included Terry Melcher, whose mother, Doris Day, had sung Paul Webster’s Oscar-winning song “Secret Love” in the 1953 film “Calamity Jane.”

This sounds like a glamorous childhood, but Guy says it left him prematurely jaded, because it exposed him and his friends to the seamy side of their parents’ Hollywood lifestyle. This was during the “L.A. Confidential” 1950s, a time when Lana Turner’s teenage daughter Cheryl Crane came home to Beverly Hills from Ojai’s Happy Valley School for spring break in 1958 and stabbed her mother’s gangster lover Johnny Stompanato to death, in what was ruled a justifiable homicide. That’s an extreme example, but Guy and his friends saw things that did not square with the picture-perfect Hollywood image.

“We knew what was going on,” he says. “It shocked us. We saw it all. I didn’t like it.”

He escaped first to Whittier College and then, as a foreign-exchange student, to Copenhagen, where he hung around with “highly intelligent people” who were artistic rather than materialistic.

“It seemed like a respite for me to be away from the over-abundant life in Beverly Hills,” he says.

A political science major, he admired John F. Kennedy and planned to go into politics. But a short stint in the Army during the early 1960s diverted him into photography. His superiors at Fort Ord asked him to teach some of his fellow soldiers how to use a camera. He had never used one before, but he read some photography books and bluffed his way through, and found that he had real talent.

“I went nuts for it,” he says.

He had planned to attend grad school at Yale after he left the Army, but instead ended up at the Art Center College in Los Angeles, with the goal of becoming a fine-arts photographer who would show his work in galleries. And so he would — eventually. But first he had to make a living, and that led him to Hollywood.

Guy’s father did not approve of his career choice, and declined to fund it.

“He thought I’d be a paparazzo,” Guy says. “He cut me off financially at a very early age.”

So Guy started working for the many record companies based in Los Angeles. He already had connections in the industry, including his old friend Terry Melcher.

This was 1963, when the pop charts were still dominated by teen-idol types who were crooners rather than rockers. The labels offered Guy plenty of work shooting Hollywood-style portraits of popular young singers like Wayne Newton — and Johnny Mathis, who had scored hits with several Paul Francis Webster songs, including “The Twelfth of Never.” But Guy was more in tune with people like Melcher who were more into rock ‘n’ roll.

As a singer, Melcher comprised half of Bruce and Terry, a vocal duo he had formed with the future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. As a songwriter and a record producer, Melcher had his own company, T.M. Music. Despite its name, T.M. was dominated, not by Melcher, but by his high-profile business partner, the singer Bobby Darin. Melcher connected Guy with Darin, and as a result, Guy ended up photographing  Darin for Capitol Records. It turned out that Guy’s then wife, Bettie, was good friends with Darin’s then wife, the movie star Sandra Dee, so the two couples began socializing together.

Darin personified the changes that were in the air. He had started out in ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll (“Splish Splash”), then segued into his Sinatra mode (“Mack the Knife”), and was now exploring new sounds — not only country and folk, but also surf music and its subset, hot rod rock. The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean currently were scoring hits in this genre, so Darin and Melcher decided to try their hand at it. They co-wrote “Hot Rod USA,” which Melcher then put on an album he and Johnston were co-producing called “Three Window Coupe.” (Any conceptual resemblance to the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” was entirely not coincidental.)

“Three Window Coupe” was credited to a group called the Rip Chords, although Melcher and Johnston apparently did most of the singing in the recording studio, and the L.A. session players known as the Wrecking Crew provided the music. Having recorded the album, Melcher needed an eye-catching sleeve for it, so naturally he called his friend Guy. The resulting cover shot featured a hot-rodded Ford V8 parked incongruously on a beach, garnished with a surfboard and the putative Rip Chords, ogling a comely young lady in a bikini.

“Columbia Records loved it,” Guy recalls.

This was his first album cover. Little did he realize that this would be the format where he would make his biggest mark on the culture.

Like Bobby Darin, Guy straddled the fault line between the glamorous Hollywood of the ‘50s and the trippy counterculture of the ‘60s. He would make the scene at the Whiskey a Go Go, a new discotheque on the Sunset Strip, where rockers like Johnny Rivers ruled the roost; but he also frequented the old-school Cocoanut Grove nightclub on Wilshire Boulevard, where he had been introduced to Bettie on a night when he was there with “Moon River” and “Pink Panther” composer Henry Mancini, a family friend. The 1960-64 period represented an overlap between these two eras, and Guy had a foot in each camp.

Nevertheless, he saw where things were heading. The new generation was getting ready to take over, and he would be on hand with his camera to record the transition. But nobody yet knew how cataclysmic this particular transition would turn out to be.



The Rip Chords’ biggest hit single was “Hey, Little Cobra,” with Terry Melcher, uncredited, on lead vocal. It peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on Feb. 8, 1964. One day later, the Beatles made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and the world changed, practically overnight. When the Beatles played the Hollywood Bowl in August, Guy was there, looking on from a premium box as a guest of the elderly gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, of all people. She scored the tickets, but he brought the credibility.

“I was the hot photographer in the music business, and so she invited me to come with her,” he says.

Guy couldn’t hear much music that night, due to all the screaming by the teenage girls in the audience. But he could see everything quite clearly, and he knew he was looking at the future. Hot rod rock soon went the way of the Dodo, and “Three Window Coupe” made no headway on the album charts, suddenly dominated by British Invasion groups. But American rockers would soon regroup, with help from a new wave of hip, young producers, one of whom would turn out to be Terry Melcher.

Doris Day was still the biggest female movie star in America in 1964, but her son’s contributions to mid-1960s culture would prove more enduring. Now a full-time producer at Columbia, Melcher had moved on from the Rip Chords to Paul Revere and the Raiders. Then he took on a new group called the Byrds, and produced their cover of a not-yet-released Bob Dylan song, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The single shot up to No. 1 in the spring of 1965, establishing folk rock as an alternative to British Invasion rock. For a time, the Byrds were hailed as America’s answer to the Beatles, and Melcher was the producer with the golden touch.

That summer, Melcher introduced Guy to another young producer, Lou Adler, who had just founded Dunhill Records. Adler asked Guy to shoot the cover for a new Dunhill album, “Eve of Destruction,” by a little-known singer named Barry McGuire. Guy posed McGuire in a manhole and shot him in black and white, to create a dramatic, gritty-looking image to go with the title song. Released as a single, it went to No. 1 during that epochal summer of ‘65, when rock ‘n’ roll matured into rock music, and “the Sixties” finally kicked into gear.

That fall, when it came time to produce the Byrds’ follow-up album to “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Melcher hired Guy to shoot the cover. Guy’s evocative, arty creation for “Turn! Turn! Turn!” earned him his first Grammy nomination.

People today much under the age of 40 cannot conceive how important album art was in the pre-digital era, and especially in the vinyl era, when LPs were physically big enough to give photographers and art directors scope for their creativity. Their work had a huge impact, because album buyers would hold the sleeves in their hands and stare at the cover while the music played in the background. This was a new art form, and a relatively short-lived one, much like the MTV music video of the 1980s. But album art was a very big deal in its day, and especially in the ‘60s, when the rock audience went supernova.

Chart-topping albums that might once have sold thousands of copies now sold in the millions, and every copy was a visual showcase for photographers like Guy Webster. Rock fans took their music very seriously as an art form, which meant that the album covers must be art too, and the people who created those covers must be artists. And so they were.

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” was just the beginning. That same fall, Guy created at least three other covers that remain iconic today.

For Dunhill, Lou Adler asked him to shoot the cover for the first album by a new group, The Mamas and the Papas. During the shoot in the group’s Laurel Canyon house, everyone got high together, to the point where Guy was no longer very steady on his feet. This was not the way he usually worked, but on this particular day it worked out well. When all four members of the group crowded into the bathroom at one point, inspiration struck.

“I said, ‘I’ve got it — get into the bathtub,’ “ Guy says. “I put the camera on a tripod because I couldn’t hold it.”

The resulting shot — John Phillips, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty sitting in the tub, with lovely Michelle Phillips recumbent upon their laps — became the eye-catching cover image for “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears,” the 1966 album that featured the monster hits “California Dreamin’ ” and “Monday Monday.”

Guy Webster's classic photo of the Mamas and the Papas.

Guy Webster’s classic photo of the Mamas and the Papas.

Meanwhile, Adler introduced Guy to the Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who told him that the Stones would be in L.A. soon to record their album “Aftermath.” Would Guy like to shoot them? Yes he would, and shortly thereafter he found himself escorting Mick, Keith & Co. up into Franklin Canyon north of Beverly Hills for a photo shoot near a reservoir. One of these shots, featuring Brian Jones in vivid red corduroys in the foreground, provided the cover for the Stones’ 1966 album “Big Hits (Green Grass and High Tide),” while portrait shots from a later session in Guy’s studio ended up on the cover of their 1967 album “Flowers.”

Then there was Simon and Garfunkel. Columbia assigned Guy to photograph this up-and-coming duo for the cover of their second album, “Sounds of Silence.” He took them up to Franklin Canyon and captured the image that still endures: two young troubadours on a country road, looking back at the camera as they head uphill toward parts unknown.

After the shoot, Guy brought Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel home to meet his parents, and Simon brought his guitar from his car and played the album’s title song for Guy’s songwriter father, who loved it.

One might assume that by this point in the ‘60s, Paul Francis Webster’s day was done. Wrong. Paul won his third Oscar in 1966 for co-writing “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which also won the Grammy for Song of the Year, beating out the Beatles and “Yesterday.”

Around this time, Paul was hired to write the lyrics for the theme song of a new animated TV show, “Spider-Man.” Ever versatile, he came up with lines that would soon be imprinted on millions of young brains: “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.”

In 1967, both Paul and Guy were nominated for Grammys: Paul for Song of the Year for “Somewhere, My Love,” set to the tune of “Lara’s Theme” from “Dr. Zhivago;” Guy for the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” cover photograph. Neither Webster won that year, but both continued to thrive. Paul remained a successful songwriter well into the ‘70s, outlasting the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas and Simon and Garfunkel. He died in 1984.

(For those who are keeping count, in addition to “Secret Love,” Paul’s other Oscar win was for “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” in 1955.)



By 1966, Guy Webster had established himself as a go-to guy for every record company in Hollywood, so it was hardly a surprise that fall when Jac Holzman of Elektra Records hired him to create the cover for the debut album by a new group Holzman had signed. What was a surprise, at least for Guy, was that when the band showed up at his studio for the shoot, the lead singer greeted him like an old friend. It turned out they had met years before when Guy was taking a philosophy class at UCLA.

“Guy, it’s Jim.”

“You know me?”

“Guy, we went to UCLA together.”

“Oh my God. Jim!”

It was Jim Morrison, much thinner and with much longer hair than when Guy had last seen him in the classroom. The group, of course, was the Doors, and the album cover, dominated by Morrison’s handsome face, would earn Guy his second Grammy nomination.

“The Doors” was released in January 1967, and by June the single “Light My Fire” was igniting the charts. This was the eve of the Summer of Love, and the Doors clearly were going places — but they would not be going to the summer’s inaugural event, the soon-to-be-legendary Monterey Pop Festival, which took place that same June.

Jim Morrison and the Doors. Morrison was a former classmate of Guy Webster.

Jim Morrison and the Doors. Morrison was a former classmate of Guy Webster.

The festival was the brainchild of Guy’s L.A. circle — Lou Adler, John Phillips, Terry Melcher and others. The Doors, for whatever reason, were not invited to join the line-up. But Guy was invited to attend, in an official capacity. He had created the influential flowerchild image featured in the festival brochure, and he was there in person to shoot Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Who as they passed into legend.

In the wake of Monterey, Herb Alpert invited Guy to head up the art department at A&M Records. Guy accepted, in part because he could see that rock was now becoming a big business, which meant more corporate interference with the creative types. Photographers like Guy would henceforth have less control over their work. But A&M as an independent label employed fewer suits and could allow Guy more autonomy.

In her 2009 book “Who Shot Rock & Roll,” the photography historian Gail Buckland described Guy Webster’s 1960s oeuvre as “part of the collective unconscious of an entire generation. The look of a Webster photograph is the look of the period; he took the photograph of the gorgeous, seemingly naked blonde in a pool of water with flowers surrounding her that was the centerpiece of the brochure for the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. He identified and isolated a look and an attitude, and then millions copied it. His photographic record of the sixties is as descriptive, in its own way, as Kerouac’s is of the fifties.”

During his rock ‘n’ roll heyday, Guy photographed an extraordinary range of notable recording artists. In addition to the above-mentioned legends, his subjects included Bob Dylan, Sonny and Cher, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Liza Minnelli, Nancy Sinatra, Chicago, Procol Harum, Nico, the Turtles, Carole King, Taj Mahal, Judy Collins, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Rivers, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, Captain Beefheart, Barbra Streisand, Earth, Wind & Fire, Randy Newman and Igor Stravinsky, along with many others.

(Local note: Guy created striking covers for the first two Spirit albums, both produced by Lou Adler. This band included former Ojai residents Ed Cassidy and his stepson Randy Wolfe, a.k.a. Randy California, along with future Ojai resident John Locke.)

One classic album cover Guy might have shot, but did not, was “Smile” by the Beach Boys, the projected follow-up to their classic 1966 album “Pet Sounds.” Nobody shot “Smile,” because the group’s resident genius, Brian Wilson, apparently had some sort of mental meltdown in the spring of 1967, and the much–anticipated album never came out, at least not as originally conceived.

Guy took many photographs of Wilson and the Beach Boys in the mid-1960s – he joined them on tour a couple of times, and he was there in the studio when they recorded the complicated vocal tracks for “Good Vibrations.” Brian Wilson paid tribute to Guy by writing the foreword to “Big Shots: Rock Legends and Hollywood Icons, The Photography of Guy Webster,” a lavishly illustrated, coffee-table book published in 2014.

“When Guy worked with us in 1966 and 1967 there were many different sessions with lots of different people on the dates, haunting the hallways,” Wilson wrote. “I was pretty focused on producing the music, so I was never certain where Guy was lurking, but man, he was right there.”


Webster's photo of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival was among the many featured in the "Who Shot Rock and Roll?" exhibit.

Webster’s photo of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival was among the many featured in the “Who Shot Rock and Roll?” exhibit.


Back in the day, the Beach Boy whom Guy was closest to was not Brian but his younger brother Dennis, the group’s drummer. And it was through Dennis Wilson — and Terry Melcher — that Guy began hearing about an aspiring singer-songwriter named Charles Manson.

Manson was a creepy ex-con with a harem of young female runaways, whom he shared with Dennis in order to worm his way into the Beach Boy’s confidence. Thus did Manson penetrate the Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll world — Guy’s world.

“I was invited to Manson’s party at Dennis’s house in Pacific Palisades,” Guy says. “I didn’t go, but I heard all about it from my friend Ned Wynn.”

Wynn, the son of actor Keenan Wynn and the grandson of actor-comedian Ed Wynn, reported that Manson and his “family” had served up a sumptuous feast and then announced to their guests that all the food had been foraged from garbage dumpsters.

Terry Melcher did not attend that party either, but he was introduced to Manson another time, via a person who had met him through Dennis Wilson. As a producer, Melcher had a professional interest in cultivating new songwriters. Some authors who have written about Manson assert that Melcher initially was intrigued by the charismatic charlatan. Guy says these authors are mistaken.

“Terry wanted nothing to do with him,” Guy says. “He was too spooky and scary.”

But Manson evidently saw Melcher as his ticket to the big time, and was angry when Melcher declined to punch that ticket.

At the time, Melcher was living with the actress Candice Bergen in a rented house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. (Guy says it was he who originally had set Melcher up with Bergen.) Guy himself never crossed paths with Manson at that house, or anywhere else. But he recalls attending a small dinner party there during which Manson’s name came up. Melcher and Bergen had only three guests that night: Guy and Bettie and Melcher’s mother, Doris Day. Melcher told them that Manson had been to the house, and that he (Melcher) was worried about what might happen. So he and Bergen were vacating the premises.

“Candice and I are moving to Malibu,” Melcher announced.

The address was a secret, Guy says: “Only his mother and Bettie and I knew.” Nevertheless, Manson somehow got wind of this move. He knew that Melcher had left Benedict Canyon behind. But Manson evidently wanted to send the producer a message. (And perhaps to touch off an apocalyptic race war while he was at it.) On Aug. 9, 1969, he sent his minions to the Cielo Drive house to kill whoever was there — which turned out to be Sharon Tate and her houseguests.

Guy was camping upstate amid the sequoias with Bobby Darin and their families when the news came over the radio about the mysterious slaughter in Benedict Canyon, at an address he knew very well. It would be months before police identified the killers, but Guy already had an inkling.

“I had a cognition — it could have been Manson,” he says.

All Hollywood was terrified.

“It put a damper on the wonderful ‘60s,” Guy says. “Everything was peace and light, and then you had this monster unleashed on the public. It scared everybody. People armed themselves.”

Guy bought a guard dog to protect his family, and Bettie took to wearing a .25 on her hip. (They and their three kids lived in Beverly Hills, not far from Benedict Canyon.) Terry Melcher hired armed guards to provide around-the-clock protection for himself and his movie-star mother, lest there be further depredations by murderous hippies. But it was melanoma rather than Manson that eventually claimed Melcher’s life, in 2004. (Doris Day is still very much with us, at 92.)

“Terry and I stayed friends ‘till he died,” Guy says.



Having taken over the record industry, Hollywood’s longhaired Young Turks next made their move on the movie industry. Older stars like Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor made way for the likes of Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda — and Jack Nicholson, whom Guy met in 1968 on the set of “Easy Rider.” Guy by this point had developed a sideline gig shooting celebrities for the Los Angeles Times, so it was a natural segue for him to shoot what were called “specials” for the film studios. His book “Big Shots” features Nicholson on its cover and plenty of other film stars inside, alongside the rockers.

(For an analysis of Guy’s approach to portrait photography, see Anca Colbert’s “Art And About” column in the Summer 2014 Ojai Quarterly.)

Guy had come full circle. Having grown up within the Hollywood world, he had returned to it in triumph. Rock stars now outranked film stars in terms of cultural prestige, so actors like Nicholson were eager to be immortalized by the same photographer who had shot the Doors and the Stones.

The irony is that by this point in his life, Guy was getting ready to leave the Hollywood scene behind. He had been working hard since he was a teenager.  In 1971, he rented out his Beverly Hills house and took his family to Europe for what would turn out to be a very long break.

“I took off and I didn’t come back for five years,” he says.

Guy loved living in Florence and summering on Minorca, and he found plenty of professional work to sustain him in Europe. He also began acquiring Italian motorcycles at this time. But ultimately his marriage to Bettie foundered, so he returned to L.A. (and to Beverly Hills) in the mid 1970s to pick up the pieces. He got involved with the stylistically innovative WET Magazine (“The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing”), and he married the actress and model Leone James and began a second family. Which is what finally brought him to Ojai.



Guy being Guy, the story he tells of how he and Leone got together is a long and compelling tale involving a Hollywood film premiere (“Superman,” 1978) and an ice-skating outing (with the Olympics gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, who later married Guy’s friend Dino Martin, a son of the film star Dean Martin who had given Guy one of his first motorcycles, but that’s another story). Suffice to say that he and Leone met, fell in love and began planning a life together.

“We didn’t want to raise children in Beverly Hills,” he says. They considered New Mexico and Oregon as alternatives. Then one day in 1979, Guy stopped off in Ojai while en route to Santa Barbara, and he happened to see the picture of a certain house on display in the window of a real-estate office in the Arcade. The house was on Reeves Road in the East End, and the driveway crossed a white bridge to get to the property. The bridge is what really caught Guy’s eye.

“I had a cognition,” he says. “I was supposed to buy this house.”

The house had started life as a barn on the old Soule Ranch (now Soule Park). Zadie Soule sold it circa 1948 to a Russian ballet dancer named C. Kahn Bashiroff, a Cold War defector who had settled in Santa Barbara and wanted a weekend home in Ojai. Bashiroff moved the barn to the Reeves Road lot and began converting it into a house. When Guy first encountered the structure three decades later, it still needed a lot of work. Undeterred, he bought it the very next day, and he and Leone moved in in 1980.

“We spent 20 years remodeling it,” he says.

At first they just spent weekends here. But the people they met in Ojai were interesting and the valley was beautiful, so they found themselves spending more time up here. “When the kids came along, we just stayed,” he says.

And so Guy Webster finally left Beverly Hills behind him for good, and put down roots in Ojai. His and Leone’s two daughters, Jessie and Merry, attended the Oak Grove School. Many friends from L.A. who came to visit were inspired to buy houses here too, he says, mentioning Mary Steenburgen, Malcolm McDowell and Peter Strauss among others. Meanwhile Guy continued to work as a photographer, commuting via motorcycle to his studio in Venice.

Thirty-six years have passed since Guy moved here, and he has long since become an Ojai institution. The girls grew up and moved away, but he and Leone remain. (No longer on Reeves Road, but still in the East End.) They have houses elsewhere and spend a fair amount of time on Martha’s Vineyard, but for Guy, Ojai is home.



Guy took a career victory lap in November 2014 when Insight Editions published “Big Shots: The Photography of Guy Webster,” which won much applause and several awards. But four months later he landed in the hospital for quadruple-bypass surgery. The operation on his heart was successful, but it triggered a stroke that put him in a wheelchair. No more tennis, no more golf, no more riding his motorcycles, no more taking photographs.

“But I can talk,” he says cheerfully.

He concedes that he wasn’t this chipper in the immediate aftermath of the stroke. Having led a charmed life for so long, he faced a difficult adjustment to his new reality.

“I was very depressed and angry, but I kind of thought that this was a lesson for me,” he says. “My life was so perfect from the cradle to the wheelchair. Now I had to learn how to live as an invalid.”

Not that he accepted that he would remain one. He made considerable progress toward recovery before a fall down some stairs put him back in the wheelchair. Now he is once again out of the chair and using a walker and progressing toward a cane. He hopes eventually to regain his ability to operate a camera, but he knows he may never again ride one of his bikes.

“It was like my church to get on a motorcycle and ride out into the wilderness,” he says. “To have it taken away was frightening.”

Guy says he relies on the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment to help adjust himself to his new circumstances. He has given up his photography studio in Venice, and he continues to sell off his motorcycle collection. But he has his wife and his children and grandchildren and his many friends, and he is content.

“I’ve always had Buddhist leanings, all my life,” he says. “You have to make the little things in life just as important  as the big things.”


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Aerial view of downtown Ojai, courtesy of David Byrne/Focus Flight

Aerial view of downtown Ojai, courtesy of David Byrne/Focus Flight

Goode’s News Part II — Plans Emerge for Key Downtown Site

By Mark Lewis

When The Ojai Quarterly posted a story on Facebook about a new proposal to redevelop the school district’s downtown property, we evidently struck a nerve. The story (from our Summer 2015 issue) was shared on several Facebook community forums, generating long threads of commentary that added up to a Town Hall debate about the future of Ojai. The proposal comes from Eric Goode, a longtime East End homeowner and a high-profile New York hotelier, and his friend Jonas Svensson, an independent investor who lives west of the Arbolada. Their idea is to build a boutique hotel of 50 to 75 rooms somewhere on the 7.5-acre property, while preserving and repurposing the historic Ojai Elementary School buildings that currently house the district offices, Chaparral High School and Chaparral Auditorium. (The skate park and the park-and-ride lot would not be affected.)

Their plan is still in the formative stages and has not yet been presented to district officials, who in any case are not actively seeking proposals for developing the property. But the mere suggestion that a chic hotel might be planted in the heart of downtown Ojai dismayed some longtime residents.

“This would be another nail in the coffin,” Wendy Barr Franklin wrote on one Facebook thread. “A delight for those wanting a little Palm Springs closer to L.A. and a sad, sad day for the rest of us. I don’t expect a return to the good old days when we didn’t need a single stoplight but it’s disheartening to see my hometown disappearing one rock wall chunk at a time. And please don’t cite this as ‘progress’ unless you consider the inability to make a left turn onto Ojai Avenue progressive.”

The negative comments drew a vigorous rebuttal from Paul Leon, an Ojai native now in his third term as the mayor of Ontario. Leon is a regular visitor to Ojai, where his mother still lives, and he noted that many streets badly need repaving. To Leon, that indicates that the city is underfunded and needs the tax dollars new development projects would generate.

“I understand the desire to maintain the ‘old’ feel of Ojai, the town I grew up in, but there has to be some compromise,” Leon wrote on the same thread. “Ojai depends on tourism. That is the major industry there. It does no good to deny it; embrace it, and plan for a better way to capitalize on it … If you develop correctly and quickly, you can maintain your character while building your city’s income.”

That in turn drew a response from Craig Walker, who serves on Ojai’s Historic Preservation Commission.

“No one resents the tourists; we just don’t want tourism to dictate the character of our town,” Walker wrote on the same thread. “There has to be a balance … in favor of those who make their homes here. Especially since tourists come here because of our Ojai way of life.”

Walker cited the protracted struggle in the 1960s and ‘70s to prevent a proposed freeway from coming through the valley, as well as the activities of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, as examples of how the community has fought to retain its small-town flavor in the face of relentless development pressure.

“The people of Ojai have worked hard over the years to limit growth and preserve our quality of life,” he wrote.

As it happens, both Eric Goode and Jonas Svensson are supporters of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, and both say they like Ojai the way it is. But, echoing Leon, they contend that in preservation as in football, the best defense is a good offense. They pitch their hotel project as a pro-active move that would help to preserve the town’s ambience, by pre-empting outside developers who might some day swoop in and foist something inappropriate on the site.

But what would be appropriate for this site? The question is well worth asking, because the site is so big and so strategically placed that whatever is done with it will have a profound impact on Ojai’s future. It already looms large in Ojai’s past.



“Growth” and “development” were things to be celebrated in the Ojai Valley of 1895, when the two-decade-old community found that it had outgrown its original one-room brick schoolhouse on Matilija Street. A new Nordhoff Grammar School was built that year at the corner of Ojai Avenue and North Montgomery Street – an imposing, two-story, wood-frame building comprising four classrooms and an auditorium, crowned by an impressive bell tower that loomed over the downtown business district.

For the next three decades, this was the most important building in town. Its Assembly Hall served the community as a dance hall, a theater, a concert hall and a place to hold meetings. It was where people came to vote on Election Day, and where they gathered at Christmastime to light the communal tree and watch Santa Claus pass out presents to the children. The Assembly Hall hosted the town’s first Roman Catholic services and its first motion picture show. It was the epicenter of village life.

But by 1927, the town had once again outgrown its grammar school. The school district jacked up the old one and moved it out of the way, and hired the distinguished Santa Paula architect Roy Wilson to design a new, Mission Revival-style school on the same site. The old school was retained for its Assembly Hall until 1937, when a new auditorium was completed and the 1895 building finally was demolished. All that remained of it was its bell, which was transferred to the new school’s bell tower.

The new, Mission-style auditorium also was designed by Roy Wilson, who was a busy man in those days. He also designed a new building for the San Antonio School on Carne Road, and a new Mission-style campus for Nordhoff High School on El Paseo Road. All are still in use today. (The former high school campus now houses Matilija Junior High School.) Wilson also designed Bill Baker’s Bakery, directly across the street from the downtown grammar school. Today, the former bakery is a restaurant called Azu, where people sit and gaze across Ojai Avenue at Wilson’s 1937 auditorium, unaware that both buildings were designed by the same architect at roughly the same time.

In 1953, Nordhoff Grammar School changed its name to Ojai Elementary School. In 1954, due to seismic safety concerns, its bellfry was removed, and the old bell was placed on display in front of the building, where it remains today. But Ojai Elementary School is long gone; it closed in 1976. The building’s North Montgomery Street wing now houses Chaparral High School, an alternative program for at-risk students. Its Ojai Avenue frontage became the Ojai Unified School District offices, including the boardroom where the property’s ultimate fate may be decided.



School enrollment in Ojai has plummeted since the ‘90s, putting financial pressure on the district. Its downtown property is potentially of great value to a developer, so the district from time to time has contemplated various ways of cashing in on it. The current board is not interested in selling the property, but has left the door open to possibly signing a long-term lease, if a developer were to come forward with a compelling concept that would significantly boost the district’s income.

Cue Eric Goode and Jonas Svensson, who revealed their interest in the property in June. But they have not yet made a formal proposal. Meanwhile, the City Council has expressed interest in designating the former Ojai Elementary School a historic landmark, which might further complicate the redevelopment process. The school board is wary of the city’s idea, but whether the building is landmarked or not, it could not be redeveloped without the city’s cooperation.

“Our plan is to continue to meet with people who want to hear about our thoughts for the site, as well as engage with people from both the city and the school board,” Svensson told the OQ. “What we currently are working on is to prepare for the formal process we have to go through to realize the project, and planning to find a constructive way to engage with the community to get input and ideas that could be useful.”

In that spirit, the OQ conducted an informal and unscientific survey to see what ideas might be out there. Among the more popular suggestions: affordable housing, a retirement community, a performing arts center, a community swimming pool, and a bowling alley.

Some people say they would welcome another townhouse-style condo development, like Los Arboles on South Montgomery Street. Others cringe at the thought of another upscale condo cluster.

Marc Whitman, the architect who designed Los Arboles, favors a different approach for the school district property. He sees it as the site of an “artists village,” perhaps along the lines of the Working Artists Ventura project in Ventura, where market-rate condos support affordable living and working spaces for artists.

“I also see an extension of the downtown commercial district in that location with shops, restaurants and things for people to do, such as art and music studios,” Whitman told the OQ. “The existing courtyard could be made into a European style courtyard surrounded by restaurants and music venues. In other words, it could be a great epicenter of creative activities in our downtown that could enhance our lives and make Ojai the richer for it.”

A similar idea was offered by Hallie Katz, co-owner of the Human Arts Gallery in the Arcade. She points to the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va., which is an old munitions factory repurposed into a complex of working artists’ studios and galleries. Why not do something similar with the former Ojai Elementary School buildings?

“Man, that would be cool,” Katz says.

Despite all those negative comments on Facebook, many people would welcome a boutique hotel on that site — especially one created by Eric Goode, who is known for developing well-designed projects like New York’s chic Bowery Hotel.

Steve Edelson, who owns the Ranch House restaurant and other Ojai Valley properties, says he supports Goode’s project. In fact, Edelson says, he would support just about any development proposal for the school district site.

“There is a growing demand for retail and housing here in beautiful Ojai,” he says. “History has shown over and over that restricting growth only leads to prices that exclude the lower and middle class, and herein  Ojai we need to be accessible to all. It seems wrong that you should have to have enough money to stay at the Ojai Valley Inn or afford a million dollar house to be here.”

To Ojai resident Cindy Convery, however, the Goode-Svensson project might compromise the town’s viability as a small-town community where people still feel connected to their neighbors. She fears that a successful hotel on that site might push Ojai past the tipping point on its way to joining Carmel, Solvang and Sedona as communities that have sold their souls to the tourist industry.

“Even a small hotel, say 75 rooms, means about 150 tourists per night on one of the already busiest corners in town,” Convery says. “Plus the 75 or so employees. Good for that business? Sure. Good for a real town where we have perhaps one of the last connected communities in Southern California? No way.”

Instead of leasing the downtown site for a hotel, she says, the school district should rededicate it to serve the public, “with a wonderful and affordable community preschool for qualified families, after-school programs and maybe an indoor farmers market on Wednesday afternoons in the auditorium. Keep Ojai a town, not a money machine.”

Money of course remains a long-term issue for the school district, which is why this valuable property may yet be put in play. And that would be a good thing for Ojai, says Nicholas Deitch of Mainstreet Architects in Ventura.

About seven years ago, Deitch worked on a preliminary proposal for this same site that was similar to the Goode-Svensson plan, in that it too involved a boutique hotel. The school board did not embrace that earlier plan, and it may or may not embrace a Goode-Svensson proposal. But at least Goode and Svensson have reopened the conversation about what might be done with the property – 7.5 acres of prime real estate that Deitch describes as “sitting just about at Ground Zero in downtown Ojai.”

“Those kinds of parcels represent a huge opportunity for the community,” he says, because they provide a rare chance to define the future in one fell swoop.

“The reality is that there is no such thing as a ‘no change’ option,” Deitch says. “Things are going to change.”

The choice, he says, is to try to control the process, or to just let it happen.

Which brings us back to Mayor Paul Leon of Ontario, who attended Ojai Elementary School in the ‘60s and whose name is inscribed in concrete near the old school bell on display outside the district offices.

The Ojai he grew up with is gone, he says, but the Ojai of the future is still up for grabs.

“Get creative,” Leon wrote on that Facebook thread. “Set a vision. Protect your way of life for the future of Ojai. It can be done right.”


Fall OQ Has Arrived


Photo by Guy Webster

Photo by Guy Webster

Just in time for August’s final weekend, the Fall OQ has hit local newstands.

The latest iteration of Ojai’s local magazine is jam-packed full of features from our finest writers and photographers. We draw your attention especially to Mark Lewis’ followup to his Summer issue article on hotelier and conservationist Eric Goode’s plans for the school district HQ. The proposal for the 7.5 acres has sparked spirited debate – not only about the downtown parcel, but about the future of Ojai.

Anca Colbert’s profile of pencil artist Jeff Mann also touches on his glorious Hollywood career, as the go-to production designer who has created the looks of such masterpieces as “Star Wars.” And Jesse Phelps delves into the secret recipes of success of three local restaurants who turn 30 this year.

Look for this issue out this weekend in and around town. Or you can download the entire magazine at theojai.net. Spread the word.

Ruth Denison, Buddhist and Meditation Pioneer

Ruth Denison, Buddhist and Meditation Pioneer

Local Artist Participating in Project About Meditation Pioneer

Local artist Attasalina Dews is participating in an important project, “The Silent Dance of Life,” about the pioneering life of Ruth Denison, who just passed away this year at the age of 93. Dews and other directors are seeking crowdsourced funding.

Please enjoy the trailer and support the project at :


or http://bit.ly/15BOUYZ

Crowd funding ends March 23rd



Ruth Denison, Women and the Mindfulness Revolution 

In 1976, Ruth Denison took a trip to the high desert in Southern California. While camping near Pioneer Town, she rescued a family of baby opossums’ who were clinging to their mother who had ceased living. Compassionate to all creatures in suffering, Ruth had a very grounded view of right action and right thought. She did not stand for “bullshit” or sit with it for that matter. She was riding the waves of giants and she wanted for everyone to gain the capacity to see from this point of view.

That trip sowed the fateful seed that grew to become the Vipassana Meditation Retreat known as Dhamma Dena in Joshua Tree, Ca. Ruth Denison was among the very first western women authorized by an Asian meditation master to teach. Her mentor, U Ba Khin, had a strong inclination to bring the practice of Vipassana to the Western community. Spreading a discipline of mindfulness grounded in practicing awareness of one’s breath, body and thought as a means to access the ability to tranquilly observe one’s experience.

Ruth’s meditation teaches many things, but it particular, she taught people to understand or at least to acknowledge what they were experiencing within themselves. Rather than always looking away as our eyes are prone to do, Mindfulness is a practice of also turning the view inward. Learning to see inside as easily as we believe we see the outside.

Ruth Denison was quite a groundbreaker for women and was the first Buddhist teacher to create women’s meditation retreats back in 1980. She was working very successfully with traumatized people thirty years before trauma therapy became popularized. Forty years ago, when meditation was only sitting and walking, Ruth was combining movement, dance, music and mindful eating with the traditional model of mindfulness practice. Ruth´s innovations were not widely accepted or understood at the time, but have since become adopted by the vast majority of western Buddhist retreat centers.

Born in Germany in 1922, then Ruth Schäfer, came of age during World War II and experienced the horrors of the war first hand. In 1957, she immigrated to the United States and found herself in Los Angeles, California in the midst what was fast becoming the flower power movement. Together with her husband Henry Denison who was of the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, Ruth associated with many artists, intellectuals and Buddhist teachers who were looking for new forms of expression – a “new consciousness”.


They frequently hosted luminaries in their home in the Hollywood hills, including Aldous and Laura Huxley, Alan Watts, Charlotte Selver, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Lama Govinda and Anaiis Nin among many others. After years of practicing meditation and traveling around the world to meet masters first hand, in 1971 Ruth was authorized by her teacher Burmese master U Ba Khin becoming one of the first female Buddhist teachers in the Western world – now famous for her innovative and “feminine” approach.

“You are a pioneer of Buddhism in the West!” proclaimed celebrated meditation teacher and author, Jack Kornfield. Ruth Denison has always been a colorful yet humble character. Though highly acclaimed within the community of Buddhism, she was passionate about one thing only, the Dhamma. Her last words about her life were, “I am glad that I dedicated my life to the Dhamma. It is a good life and a good way to be, I am glad that I dedicated my life to helping people.”

Ruth Denison passed away just last month at the age of 93. “The Silent Dance of Life”, the first feature length documentary on Ruth Denison, is currently crowd-funding. During the past four years, director and producer Aleksandra Kumorek accompanied Ruth at her center in the Mojave desert, capturing more than 100 hours of unique footage. The completed project will yield a remarkable portrait of one the unique women teachers of our time as well as an online-archive with many hours of exclusive videos and materials including Ruth Denison´s formal and informal Dharma talks, ceremonies, rituals and guided meditations.

The project, if successful, will contribute an exceedingly meaningful body of knowledge and experience to the meditation community as well as to the greater scope of human kind and meaning in the twenty-first century.

Please enjoy the trailer and support the project at :


or http://bit.ly/15BOUYZ

Crowd funding ends March 23rd

Video embed code:

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Whole Lotta’ Love On Display

KGartopen 185Whole Lotta Love – Love Potion #9 Art Exhibit at Gallery 525

By Demitri Corbin

Photo Credit: Mary M. Long

On Saturday evening, Feb. 8,  Gallery 525 hosted an artists’ reception for it latest exhibit, Love Potion #9.

The exhibit of small works measuring 9 X 9 inches boasts the work of 30 artists!  The artists took the Valentine-themed show to heart (truly no pun intended), producing vibrant and eclectic show highlighting artists from in and outside the Bubble.  The show’s curators are Gallery 525 owners Kelly Luscombe-Bea and Sooz Glazebrook.

The opening reception began at 5 and when I arrived after a great meal at Papa Lennon’s (they do such a great job!) a crowd was already gathering.   Within no time the crowd swelled and a spectacular event was underway.  I found Kelly and we stole away to the backstage area and had a quick chat.

DC:  I’ve been to Gallery 102 and Porch Gallery but I’ve not had a chance to get here before.  When did you open?

KLB:  2 years ago.  We started with a couple of artists and kept rolling.  There are a lot of deserving artists who are great but no one knows about them.  There are lot of Ojai artists that don’t feel comfortable in the art world here, so the purpose is to show the talent that Ojai has and give them exposure.  And we are selective …

DC:  We?

KLB:  Myself and Sooz Glazebrook.

DC:  Tell me about the beginning.

KLB:  The space opened in 2011 with different people who pulled out of the gallery 3 months in, so Sooz and I took over and began recognizing both emerging and established artists…we want to celebrate the fun and joy of creation, so Love Potion #9, the song inspired this show.  We wanted to do something fun for Valentine with the small works of 9X9 …

DC:  Give me an example of one of the emerging artists.

KLB:  Khalil Lennon, we found her working next door at Papa Lennon’s, she’s 21 or so.  She’s a wonderful new artist…we’ve did this same show one year ago.  Every year we have an open call for artists, everyone can submit.  This gives everyone in town a chance to submit once a year.

DC:  Give me some highlights in the show.

KLB:  Oh, there are so many … Carmen (Abelleira) always … Dianne Bennett, Bruce Samia – he’s up from Hollywood, and Nikki Sims, Ahde Lahti, Roberto Rodriguez … it’s about celebrating creativity, the genius in art. The gallery is also a music venue and small performance space.  It’s all about highlighting the talent that’s right amongst us.

The sound of applause alerted us to a performance starting onstage.

DC:  Thanks Kelly, I think we’d better get back to the party.

KLB:  Thank you, Demitri!

Love Potion #9, the 2nd Annual Small Works show features the work of over 30 artists, is on display at Gallery 525 through March 8.  Gallery 525 is located at 525 W.  El Roblar Ave., Ojai, CA.  For more information visitwww.gallery525.com

FAP bible studyFamilies Are Forever Deals with Devout Couple Who Learns Their Son is Gay

By Demitri Corbin

Families Are Forever is a 21-minute documentary short that tells the story of a devout Mormon couple, who were staunch Proposition 8 supporters, who one day discover that their 13 year-old son is gay.It was the  2013 Ojai Film Festival Theme award-winner.  The film is the third in a series of films produced by the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), a research, intervention, education and policy initiative of San Francisco State University to study the impact of family acceptance — and rejection — on the health, mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.I recently spoke via telephone with the film’s executive director and program director for FAP, Caitlin Ryan, PhD., to discuss the making of Families Are Forever from her office in San Francisco.

 Demitri Corbin:  There’s a lot to this story.  Let’s start from the beginning.  How did the Family Acceptance Project start?
Caitlin Ryan:  I’ve been a clinical social worker for 40 years, starting in the ’70s and in the ’80s when the HIV epidemic emerged, and I started AIDS Atlanta. It was the only AIDS organization in the South … and in the South particularly, young gays left to go to the big city, to become themselves, and come home maybe once a year for Christmas or Thanksgiving.  And their families didn’t know that much about them.  Then in ’82, ’83, I started to see parents in intensive care units, and worked with families who didn’t know their son was gay.  Throughout that period, most people didn’t see how families were being affected.  That set for when I had an opportunity to create a program.
Fast forward to the ’90s I continued working in the field … the ’80s saw more and more adolescents coming and the age kept dropping. I knew I wanted to develop a program.  In 2000, I moved to California and got the opportunity to develop a program.

DC:  That leads to my next question – how did you come to develop the study for the research?  Was it an accumulation of research over the years? Were you developing in your head as you moved along?

 CR:  I received a very large grant from the California Endowment for the first comprehensive study on how families acceptance or rejection effects high-risk behavior in LGBT adolescents and teens.  I knew in general, families protest against their children’s sexual orientation and services were designed to serve the teen alone, or with a group of their peers.
Families seemed to be a problem. I knew all families weren’t rejecting their children and I knew we needed a large family study in order to develop a new model of care families – a new service with which to support families.  And I studied families all across the state in urban, rural, farm workers.  I took 2- to 4-hour interviews and discovered 100 ways contemporary adolescents are rejected by their families, and how these behaviors measured the relationship between how families responded and high-risk behavior.  Faith and religion are a huge factor in acceptance or rejection.
By 2004 I knew I wanted to make films.  I wanted the films to be about diverse families, films designed give youth and families hope – a multiple series of ethnically, religiously diverse families that tell the story, show families were being in support of their LGBT children.  FAP uses models to show, to breakdown perceptions of youth and providers, to offer prevention strategies in the field of counseling, education – help families with support.

DC:  Let’s talk about the creative team, tell me about the director, Vivian Kleiman.CR:  We met about 10 years ago. Vivian Kleiman is a veteran filmmaker.  I knew her work and we had the same philosophy.  I met her at a conference and asked her if she would work with me and she said, “Absolutely.”  Then I had to raise the funds piecemeal – if I could get them out faster it would make a huge difference.  Each film is its own cultural work.DC:  Tell me about the first film, Always My Son.CR:  That was the second film.  The first was the story of a Latino family with a lesbian daughter with preschool children.  The mom was struggling – it brought up intergenerational issues.  That was the main story.  The average age of younger kids coming out is a little older than 13.  They know at about age 6 or 7.  The perception is young people come out later.  It’s important that family and caregivers understand how to support them.  In families of color, seniors are really important.  This film has been used a lot in senior’s centers.Always My Son  is the story of a typical masculine father with a son who is gender non-conforming.  The son loves dolls, pretty colors and as the son grows older, the father pushes the son away.  The mother is more responsive but the father just ignores it – silence – that’s related to risk.  They start noticing depression and are sent to a psychologist because he was registering a high level of risk.  He goes to a party one night and gets alcohol poisoning and they have to rush him to an emergency  room and that’s when the realized how much distress he was in and needed help.  They started an LGBT support group for teens and found a church that was accepting … it’s like a Wizard of Oz thing in that you don’t see what happens behind the screen, how families conservative and religious, how they integrate cultural and religious beliefs and values.  It shows the journey of how either rejecting or accepting affects high-risk behaviors.DC:  That brings us to Families Are Forever.  The evening I met you the film had won the OFF Best Theme Award but you also won an award that evening in BakersfieldCR:  Yes, the Best Independent Film Award at the Bakersfield Film FestivalDC:  How did it feel getting two awards in one night?CR:  Oh, we were all really blown away to win the Theme award, it was just an honor.  I was so moved by the festival, everyone’s warmth, the people who were there were artists with great, long careers in film and it was just an honor for our team.  Vivian wasn’t able to be there, she had other commitments.  She would have been thrilled!DC:  What I liked most about the film is that it was fresh – this all happened just in the last year.  How did you come to find this family?

 CR:  Well, when the son was coming out they realized they need some help.  They were sending him to reparative therapy and that only increased his risk.  He was suicidal and they knew they had to change.  He urgently needed help and they went online, found FAP and interviewed them. The mom said I was the brightest light in the darkest abyss of their life.  They desperately needed a therapist and I recommended a friend who found them a therapist.  I went with them on a speaking trip at a Mormon Conference and I asked if they would like to tell their story and they said yes, of course.  They would love to tell their story.

Our conversation lasted 45 minutes.  I will end it here.  Look for the extended conversation in the coming weeks.The Ojai Film Festival wrapped up last night with an encore showing of the festival winners.  Families Are Forever will be available, along with other film festival entries, at Ojai Library in the coming weeks.  For more information on the Family Acceptance Project visit http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/


Porch Gallery & The Ojai Art Festival

OAf6An interview with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni

 By Demitri Corbin

Saturday, November 9, 2013
 Part I
 It’s 5 p .m .Saturday evening and I’ve slipped out of an Ojai Film Festival screening at the Playhouse to meet with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni, the proprietors of Porch Gallery at 310 E. Matilija St.
 I arrive to find a frenzy of activity!  Lisa is darting between the gallery and the makeshift auditorium outside the Modern Folk Living shop where a distinguished panel of critics, curators and artists are in discussion before a large crowd.  In the gallery I find Heather Stobo and, after determining that Lisa will not be available anytime soon, we decide to begin our interview without her, as Heather is not one of the organizers of the OAF, we can discuss the Porch Gallery.
 We find our way to the back office and the piano bench of a baby grand.  Lisa and Heather are newly-weds, having married just a few weeks before this opening.
DC:  First, congratulations and congratulations.

HS:  Thank you.

 DC:  Now, let’s start with the gallery.  I’ve been out of touch, so give me the gist – is this the opening?  Is this the official opening?

HS:  The official launch was a month and a half ago with MB Boissonnault, an L.A. artists, who’s landscapes are beautiful, haunting, and emotionally charged.   It was a partnership with Wallspace L.A., Valda Lake’s gallery in Los Angeles.  We wanted to start with something that was comfortable, yet different.  We’ll have rotating shows approximately every six weeks.

DC:  What’s next?

 HS:  Well, we’ve been overwhelmed with putting on the festival and getting married, so right now December is up in the air.  But the first week in January we’ll have the work of Alexandra Cantle.  She does text pieces about dyslexia.  It’s very conceptual.  We want present contemporary art about serious matters.  We want to present something conceptual and thought provoking, not just pretty pictures.
DC:  This show and what you’re saying brings to mind the Nathan Larramendy Gallery that really made an impression on the community.
HS:  Yes, Nathan has been brought up to us before.  He was before our time, before Lisa and I had moved here.  We have gallery partners in L.A.  But we’re not trying to be an L.A. gallery.  We’d like to do events…pop-ups, musical events.

There’s something that’s nice about this place.  There’s something peaceful about the place – that’s warm and cozy and comfortable – not a sterile art gallery.  It’s a house.  We have a fireplace to hang art over.  You can see what it’s going to look like in your house.

 As she says this a string of guests come walking through asking where the restroom is.
 HS:  (pointing) Right through there.
DC:  And you get to tell everyone where the restrooms are.

HS:  I do want to say that we couldn’t have done any of this without Carl Thelander.  He’s the owner of the building and a true arts patron.  He’s been so supportive of the whole thing and all he asks is to be invited to the parties!

DC:  I do want to ask you about the other galleries that are opening up – which I love –

HS:  Yes, I do, too!  I figure the more the better.  There are different tastes out there, so the more, the better.  Better for Ojai.

DC:  Wonderful!  I think that’s good – look, just in time.

We rise to see that the gallery is now completely full and Heather dives into hosting mode.  I make my way through the crowd and down the street to Phillip and Gary’s weenie roast (don’t laugh), resolved to return later for my interview with Lisa.

Part II

It’s now close to 9 p.m. and the Porch reception is still going strong.   The baby grand now sits in a darkened room but the gallery, front lawn and porch are still teaming with guests who travel back and forth to the wine bar and the Jolly Oyster food truck parked in the driveway between the gallery and OYES.   I flag down Lisa amongst the crowd and we make our way to the piano bench and begin our conversation.  Lisa is exuberant from the success of the evening.

DC:  How did the Ojai Art Festival come to be?
LC:  I’m the marketing director of 49pm with Chris Ritke.  We partnered with his wife Uta Ritke to create the Ojai Art Festival.
DC:  Are they from Ojai?

LC:  Yes, it’s an Ojai-based company.   We were challenged by our business advisor to do something B-HAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal.  So we thought how do we put on something in a community that is already arts-centric.   We went around to all the organizations that are already putting on festivals and I approached Jamie Fleming and we talked about how to uplift the arts conversation, and we decided to do the festival as part of the Ojai Film Festival.  It worked out and we were fortunate to put on the Ojai Art festival with the OFF. Through our company, 49pm, we provide software tools to artists  and arts organizations called Entrythingy, and artists around the country used our software to enter their artwork into our show.

DC:  Tell me more about Chris and Uta.

LC:  Chris is the creator of 49pm and Uta is a graphic designer.  I do sales and marketing.  Uta has done the branding for the festival, she created the logo that you see all around town.   We worked 100s of hours to get stores, shops, and local businesses involved.  We have wonderful artists showing.  In addition, we included five featured installations that are all around downtown Ojai including a garbage tower at The MOB Shop built by Greg Prinz, one of the owners, a piece made entirely out of cardboard by Josh Short that’s in front of Modern Folk Living, a sculptural piece made entirely out of pieces collected out of trash containers from dumpsters all around Ojai by Joseph Umali Fernandez, an installation called Neighborhood Infusions where mulberries gathered in Ojai have been made into an infusion drink called Ojai Mullberry Rye and presented as a public participatory live installation by Fallen Fruit of Los Angeles, and a curated photographic installation by local Ojai photographer Enrico Natali.

At this point Heather enters the room, drink in hand.

HS:  Demitri, if you want to know what is Lisa’s complete inspiration – it’s me!!

We all laugh.

DC:  Let’s end it on that note!  Thank you!

We leave the darkened room and return to the festivities.

The Ojai  Art Festival is holding an international juried show of art from trash, discarded objects and materials. DISCARTED asked artists to work with trash, discarded objects and materials to raise questions and ideas, aesthetic and moral, about the life of the planet our wasteful society threatens.

The art will be shown in 50 shops, restaurants and galleries in Ojai from November 7 thru November 24, 2013. For more information visit porchgalleryojai.com or ojaiartfestival.com