Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Teena March 5, 1956 - December 26, 2010
I’m really still in shock about the sudden death of legendary R&B singer Teena Marie. Man, talk about hitting home! My mom called me on Sunday night, because my aunt had called her, because a cousin had seen it on the news internet… the anxiety wasn’t because Teena Marie was some famous singer, it was because she was a neighborhood girl; a Venice girl. Originally, I thought… no way, not Teena? But sadly, it turned out to be true. Teena was more than just a famous singer for me, her younger brother Tony is one of my oldest friends.

Mary Christine Brockert a.k.a Teena Marie grew up in a big old house on Nowita Court, on one of the old Venice walk streets (I had some cousins that lived on that same block.)  Both she and Tony went to Mark Twain Jr. High and Venice High School (Teena was several years older.)  As children both had a talent for music and often would perform in local talent shows. As a teen Teena began to hang with the local black kids and fell in love with soul and R&B music. Teena found that she had the gift of this super soulful voice that could blow everyone else (of any color) away. Teena amazingly enough did brake a color barrier…a reverse one. No one could believe that a little white girl could sing like that? But she did, and she went on to make it big in the music business… she beat the odds and became a star!

Think about how the local folks in Hoboken felt about that kid, Sinatra?… to the real Venice natives her story carried the same kinda tune.  She was the local hero. I remember (as many of my friends do) following Teena rise to stardom, through the eyes of her family. We would always hear what Teena was up too, what was going on with her career; especially during those years when her career was just on fire, with such hits as: Lover Girl, I’m Just A Sucker For Your Love, Square Biz. And like all long careers (hers over 30 years and was still going strong) she had her ups and downs too of course. Teena was a real tough little cookie.  When Motown Records stopped promoting and releasing her music (not to mention trying to screw her out of royalties), Teena, took a big gamble and squared off in court with the giant record company… and knocked them out. Thanks to her; a law called the Brocket Initiative is now in the books, not only did it help her, but it has saved many other artists who found themselves behind an eight ball in their contracts (and many more in the future I’m sure.)
As for Teena’s personal life? What I know, I won’t say... but, I probably know about as much as you do?  I do know that she was real tight with the late funk rocker Rick James, and he was kind of her guru. When Rick died in 2004, I know it was a heavy thing for her. Teena, rolled with it, like most successful performers in entertainment world, I’m sure that her fame and fortune came with the usual trappings. But to her credit, anytime I ran into Teena, that’s who she was; Teena… never Lady T (her showbiz moniker.) But I’ll tell you, if you were in the same room with her, make no mistake about it; her talent was the 800 pound gorilla that you were sharing the space with. You always felt that if she wanted to, she could do an Ella Fitzgerald number a shatter a wine glass with a high note.

Teena was also regarded as a performer who really gave her audience a show. I’m kicking myself now, because I never got around to seeing her perform live. I’ve always heard that her shows were legendary.  I foolishly figured that Teena would be around forever. I even heard recently that there had been interest in bring her life story to the big screen... interesting to see what happens now? I sure that Teena's legend will only grow bigger with the passing years.
Teena in 2000 at her brother Tony's 40th birthday party.

The last time I saw Teena, I was killing time waiting around for my (then) girlfriend, I was looking in the window of a travel store on Raymond Avenue in Pasadena, Teena happened to be standing right next to me, we both suddenly turned and recognized each other…funny, you just never know when you’re gonna actually see someone for the last time?

Teena called me once, about a year and half ago. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Villa Marina shopping center, when my cell phone rang. It was a number that I didn’t recognize… I picked up the phone and said “hello this Ray” and I heard this unmistakable voice “hey, Ray it's Teena…” I thought to myself, yikes, if Teena’s calling me… I must be in trouble? And I kinda was (just a little); but that’s another story. She was my pal Tony’s big sister, but because of who she was, and what she had accomplished, I think that she kinda carried that big sister weight about her to many of his friends?

I know that all of Teena’s extended Venice family is sending out prayers to that of her immediate. I can only imagine how heavy her dear mom, Mrs. Brockert’s heart is right now… and of course, Teena’s teenage daughter Alia, and I feel for my pal, Tony and all of the Brockert family...  sad stuff.  I’m sure that a lot of us old Venice locals do feel like we just kinda lost our big talented sister… goodbye dear Teena, I know that your spirit continues on somewhere, because of all people you proved without a doubt... that you always had soul sister.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Brittany Murphy: Remembering My Friend and Our Time at the Ambassador Hotel

Beautiful Brittany check in to the Ambassador Hotel

It’s truly hard to believe that a year has passed since Brittany Murphy left us… it’s really still hard for me to believe that she’s really gone. Yes, she was such a major talent, she could do the heavy acting thing (Girl Interrupted, Don’t Say a Word, 8 Mile) she was in incredible comedian (Clueless, King of the Hill, Just Married) and she was also an amazing singer... incredible set of pipes, the way she belted out the classic, The Queen song "Someone to Love" in the animated film Happy Feet (she also sang on the hit club single "Faster Kill Pussycat”.) But, with all her talent and accomplishments, to me she was just really this incredible person who breezed into my life for brief magical moment.

Brittany and I became friends in 2004, when I was helping run the film department at the now demolished Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The Ambassador was the number film, television and still shoot location in the city. Brittany had filmed one scene from her comedy, Just Married at the Ambassador, the scene where she and Ashton Kutcher spend the night in a European hotel with disastrous results. The funny thing was I didn’t work on day of filming (I had worked the week of preparation days before, but had made a run that Friday to Vegas.) 

"Where's Ray?"

 Brittany did come back not long after to do a photo shoot… I had mentioned to the gal who was doing the catering that I had a poster from Just Married in my office (we often were sent the posters from movies that had filmed at the hotel) the catering gal said “I’ll tell Brittany, she’s a sweetheart, I’m sure she’ll run up to your office and sign it for you. Well come the end of the day, guess who pokes her head into my office? “Where’s Ray?”… little Brittany (all alone, there she is with a beautiful smile and a moment later, I was completely taken with her… now mind you, I hadn’t really seen any of her movies (Girl Interrupted… but I don’t realize it at that time?) I mostly knew her from those commercials from that film; Don’t Say a Word, where she played that spooky looking  waif who creepily said “I’ll never tell”…  She was so sweet and loving, with in a few minutes she was having fun playfully hugging and kissing me (and if she was having fun, I was really having fun!)  She must have been hanging in my office with my pal Hector (who was taking our picture) and I, for at least a half in hour (most celebs are usually gone the minute they’re finished shooting.) Brittany really liked my black & white photographs that I had taken of the Ambassador. I thought she was so sweet I took one right off the wall and gave it to her as a gift. 

After she left I figure well that fun memory, but I was sure that I’d never see her again… a couple week later I get a call from a photographer who asked for “Ray”… I said it was me on the phone, she wanted to know if she can come to the Ambassador and do a photo shoot?… I said sure, and told her but it cost this amount… she said thank you and I thought that was that. About five minutes passed and my phone rang again. It was same photographer… she said, “I forgot to tell you that I was calling on behalf of Brittany Murphy.”  Why didn’t you tell me that?” I said to her. Well I said that yes, she could come down on Saturday with Brittany and they could do their little photo shoot… but I said, that I that since Brittany was at the hotel, I’d like to take a few shots of her myself. She said that she was sure that would be fine with Brittany. Well, that was a real enjoyable day for all of us. As Brittany and the photographer did their thing up on the hotel floors, I was doing my own little photo shoot in the lobby with some friends who were dressed in vintage outfits (we actually had an old Ambassador Bellman uniform.) I even dressed in a trench coat in my homage to my movie hero, Robert Mitchum.  When Brittany was finished with her shoot, she honored her promise and let me photographer her. I must say that I was a little nervous; I didn’t want to screw it up opportunity up. I had the front desk all set up the way I wanted it… I added a couple pieces at the front desk to give it a classic old Hollywood look (a beautiful little painting of Louise Brooks, by my friend Ana Rosa was a great touch.) Brittany really had a love for the old Hollywood, that’s why she liked the Ambassador (and I think the fact we clicked together.) So I’m revisiting and sharing some of the photos of that day (very few, if anyone has ever seen.) 

The Shot!
There was one photo that really stood out for me; I knew it when I heard the camera "click." I shot her off center, she’s sitting at the famous Ambassador front desk giving me her little waif look. It was the only image that I blew up; I made one print for Brittany and one for me. I gave it to her when she insisted on coming to back to the Ambassador to do a photo shoot for Maxim Magazine and her poster for the then upcoming film Sin City. I’ll never forget when I showed her the 16 x 20 black & white image. Her eyes became full of tears; she hugged me and started giving my kisses. Though, I have to say, since the first time we met in my office, she’d hug me tight like a boa constrictor and just give me a barrage of kisses… we had another great day, she was so excited; we talked about her upcoming movie, Sin City. I had just seen a trailer of and it had just blew me away. Even though, my time at the Ambassador was running out; the Los Angeles School District had finally rolled all over everyone and was soon going to close us down, and eventually demolish the historical L.A. landmark… that day we had fun. My little niece Aly came by to meet her and get her autograph, which Brittany was happy to do. After that day, I felt that Brittany and I, would always in some way or another always be friends. She told me that the photo that I gave her that day in my office proudly hung in her home. That was the last day that I ever saw her in person again.

I did speak to her one over the phone. I had called her office (in her home actually) to invite her to a friend's comedy short that was screening at the Director Guild of America on Sunset. The phone rang and her assistant picked up, a British girl who was very, very polite… she kept on saying “thank you” to everything I seemed to say. When I was winding down the conversation, I mentioned who I was and to give Brittany my best. I heard a little mischievous giggle that I recognized; “Ray, it’s me, Brittany.” I laughed “What are you doing? Boy, I thought I was talking to the most polite assistant in Hollywood.”  She explained that she was in between assistants and she had been answering her own phones. She was sorry that she was unable to attend my friends screening, but we had a nice ten minute chat; I had actually heard from my friend’s wife that Brittany was getting married? ( I had met this fella “Joe” at the hotel once) so I felt that I should congratulate her before we hung up. To my surprise, Brittany laughed…  “Oh Ray you’re too funny, engaged is a long way from being married.”  I must admit that I didn’t understand that at the moment?… until I heard that night somewhere, that her engagement was over (boy, I felt like a dummy!) It turned out that Brittany broke off her engagement on August 22, 2006 (my birthday of all days!)
Well that unfortunately that was the last time I spoke to Brittany… and a couple years went by. Brittany went on to marry some other guy, whose name I won’t mention. I really don’t know how things ended the way they did for my little friend.

A friend of mine had been a producer on a one of her last films; a movie for the Si Fi Channel called Mega Fault (I wondered, Brittany was one of the hottest actress in movies a couple years before, why now was she making cable film?)  But, at first I was excited that they were working together, but soon I could tell that something was amiss. When he finished the movie, I could tell that it wasn’t a nice experience for him. He didn’t speak too much about it, and I didn't press the issue. I’m sure that he didn’t want to say anything to make me feel bad. Never the less I was excited to see the film when it aired that summer… I was alarmed on how thin she looked in the picture… and she was thin to begin with!  I was a little worried; I would have loved to have called her, but by then her phone number had been changed. 

 A few months past and December came. I received a voice mail from my friend who had made the film with Brittany. I could tell that something was wrong, by the way his voice cracked when he spoke. His message said, he had he just heard that Brittany had died. He knew how fond I was of her, and just thought I should know. It meant a lot to me that he called before I heard it somewhere else. And that was a year ago today. As the days and weeks past, and the more information came out on her death, it was hard, not think about it. It was really hard to feel very Christmassy last year. It really upset me; in my mind her life didn’t have to end that way… alone unconscious in the shower. I had a girlfriend for many years, and I always took care of her, whether she was sick or whatever she what was going on with her… neglected she wasn’t. So I don’t understand how someone who has a husband (living in the same house with her) dies alone like that? I suppose it will always bother me… I’ll always have great memories of Brittany, though they will always be bittersweet. I was finally able to put her picture up on my wall, the picture that she loved and rewarded me with the big hug and all those sweet kisses. But it’s so strange that the Ambassador and now Brittany are both now gone... It was just like yesterday we were all there, having fun and taking pictures. I would have never have guessed that’s how the script was going to end.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dean Martin Marshmellow World

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tis The Season... So Cal Style!

On the way to LAX!

Pasadena... The Rose Parade is almost a float!

Capitol Records in December: is a grand sight to see!
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Anne Rice Is Nice... And I'm A Big Dummy For Leaving My Vampire Book At Home!

Anne Rice meets me of all people?
She has a great signature!
I love books & writers... and every once and a while I'll stand in line with other book lovers for an authors signature. A couple years ago I was in a thrift store happened upon a copy of Anne Rice's classic, Interview With The Vampire... it looked like a first edition (I think it's a book club copy?) So I grabbed it, I thought maybe one day if all the stars are aliened she'll do a signing at a local book store... well a couple days ago I was going through the LA Weekly and happened to see that Ms. Rice was going to be  at Vroman's Books to promote her latest novel; Of Love and Evil (a tale about an angel and an assassin)... well, I thought maybe I'll drive over to Pasadena with my book... and my trusty camera (I was looking for something or someone special to wrap up  my year in pictures with.)

Well, I made the trip, got there nice and early and guess what friends? I forgot my damn vampire book at home! I hate when do something lame like that... but at 
least I had my trusty camera with me... because if I would have forgotten that... well, I would have really been pissed at myself! But I digress, back to Ms. Rice... it's always interesting to see who reads an authors books when your at a book signing... I was expecting a bunch of goth looking "Twilight" people with widows peaks & phony fangs...  but from what I saw, I think I was the only one who was actually sporting a widows peak there? I was there representing the tanned George Hamilton, Love at First Bite vampire faction... I guess? While I was in line, I could hear her fans talking about her (and the fact that's she's written over 30 books) they really have a connection with this lady. I have a dear friend Ana Rosa who really loves her, and finds her and her work to be a muse for her own wonderful art work (and that was another reason that I made the trek to Pasadena from Venice... so I could call her and say to her "guess where I'm at right now?") Well, since the book signing started right on time and great staff a Vroman's kept the line nice and tidy, I was standing in front of famous author in about 20 minutes with a copy of her new book (she has a very nice signature, I might add) and I must say that she really, really had a very nice energy about her (and she's from my favorite place besides Venice, CA; New Orleans!)... even though I forgot my damned vampire book! Which is now sitting on my bookshelf again unsigned... (alone & aging like Tom Cruise was in that old mansion in NOLA at the end of the movie version of Interview With The Vampire)... Well, at least I got a few nice photos & I didn't get another $54 parking ticket (see my last post!) Nice to meet you (and your staff) Ms. Rice, looking forward to reading your novel... maybe it'll inspire me to finish mine soon!
FYI: Ms. Rice will be at a book signing at The Mission Inn, in RIVERSIDE, CA on Saturday, January 8 @ 1:00 PM

And a great smile!

This lady really connects with her readers!
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Have a Seat at THE TABLE

 Marc Zicree and Ray
Last night I went to a screening of a new documentary called The Table at The Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood (it was sponsored by the entertainment group  Nosotros.) Filmmaker Ana Berredo, follows a group of producers, writers, director, actors; and actually anyone who dreams of making it in Hollywood (and I write that in a good way.) I heard of the screening when Zicree was on the nightly radio program; Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. I consider Hollwood as part of my territory, so I went (although parking in Hollywood is such a confusing pain in the ass these days... I found a $54 ticket on my windshield upon my return! ) But back to the movie...

The Table meets every Thursday at a local L.A. eatery, it's a support group for those who just don't want to wait anymore for there big break to come. At the head of The Table is veteran television writer Marc Scott Zicree (along with his wife of 33 years Elaine), his numerous credits include such show such as; Beauty & the Beast, Babylon 5 and Sliders (he is also the author of definitive book on the TV show The Twilight Zone; The Twilight Zone Companion.) This documentary is a look into a year with various lovable members as they try and get their projects and their foot in the door of exclusive industry door. The documentary as well as the actual " Table" itself is very inspirational with it's "we're all in this together attitude." Often they roll up their own selves and pool they're resources and make a project themselves; it's a real brotherhood of man with them. I bet if Orson Welles were still alive, he's probably be sitting at The Table!

As they say in the film, The Table (going 17 years strong) is open to anyone; it doesn't cost anything, you don't have to know anyone, and most important is there is no pecking order... and once you visit "The Table", much like The Actor's Studio, you're considered a member for life. I really enjoyed this film and I hope that if you get a chance to see it you make an effort (I'm sure it'll hit the festival circuit soon.) In the audience questioner they asked what about this film did you enjoy best? And I must say it was the effervescent spirit of Marc Zicree, who even though he's a veteran of  industry, he still has projects that he's yet to accomplish (he's just written a truly inspired spec script for the hit television show, MAD MEN that features Rod Serling as a guest character!)  As for me, with a half a dozen un-produced screenplays under my belt... I hope to pull up a chair at "The Table" real soon... maybe the ghost of Orson Welles will be there too?

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Michael "Nick" Nichols a.k.a The Indiana Jones of Photography
The Annenberg staff always knows how to bond with the guest photographers.
One of National Geographic’s most famous photographers; Michael Nichols stopped by The Annenberg Space for Photography yesterday. Nichols came by to sign copies of his amazing coffee book; The Last Place on Earth. He’s one of the five photographers that are featured at The Space’s current exhibit: EXTREME EXPOSURE. The show which runs until April 17th features an amazing group of photographers that do work in the most dangerous of environments.

Nichols Grand Adventure Book!
Reflected on glass, Nichols lectures to the SOR crowd.
The previous night, Nichols had given a lecture to a SOR house. He spoke of working with the late Diane Fosse and Jane Goodall, capturing their work with gorillas and chimpanzees as well as numerous other adventures with his camera. A true gentleman who was kind enough to spend some time chatting with the staff of The Space, giving up some back story on some of his incredible work.

Nichols work has reflected his love of the primates of Africa.
One of the photos featured is of a silverback mountain gorilla, which Nichols first encountered in the rain forest of Rwanda. He became very fond of this particular young gorilla who became the leader of his group. Nichols sadly informed us that this magnificent gorilla was killed; shot in the chest by a Rwandan soldier who got too close to him. Nichols said that the gorilla was mostly all bark and no bite and was really a gentle giant. Stories like this are what drives Nichols and photographers like him… they’re trying to show our world that we’re losing by the minute!
Check out The Dian Fossey's Foundation website if you'd like to help her gorillas?

* On a side note, I asked Nichols what he thought about the legend of "Bigfoot?" I figured with all the time he's spent with primates and also photographing America's giant Redwoods... he'd have a definite opinion... and he did. He gave me a "negative." Now myself, a true "Bigfoot" believer, I was a little disappointed, but in a way not... that just clears the field for me to get the "money shot" of "The Big Guy" someday!

Who's shooting who? This photography crossfire reminds me of the end of the movie, Reservoir Dogs!

The Space's beautiful Aloma takes a portrait shot in front of Michael Nichols bug covered hands.

Aloma checks out a shot that Michael Nichols took of her.
The Annenberg Space for Photography's newest exhibit features; Florida swamps, the Arctic, the African jungle and volcanoes from all over the world... in short: Adventure!
Besides Nichols; EXTREME EXPOSURE features the work of such amazing extreme photographers; Clyde Butcher, Paul Nicklen and the husband & wife team of Donna & Stephen O'Mara.
Even though you missed Michael Nichols you'll want to stop by a check out the Extreme Exposure Exhibit (again, it runs now through April 17, 2011.) The show not only features a print gallery, but the centerpiece of the space are giant screens that feature a documentary as well as a digital slide show of images... it's truly a unique venue to view photography. For more info go to the website below.
EXTREME EXPOSURE: Features the photos of five great photographers!
The Volcano Boots of Stephan O'Mara
An example of the large format camera that Clyde Butcher uses in the field.