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.


  1. Thank you for writing this blog.

    I was just a fan of hers and I don’t understand what happened either, but your story made me laugh and cry. The pictures were beautiful. I needed that.

    Sincerely, RubyPearli

  2. Ray,
    Thanks for sharing your memories of a special woman. I spent time at the Ambassador in the 70s working on the RFK shooting with a friend of his and did not know of your connection there. Sorry for the loss of your friend and of that great LA landmark as well.
    Merry Christmas,

  3. Thank you from your kind words... I've been holding all my thoughts in me since she passed away last years... it felt good to write them out and share them.


  4. Hey Chuck,
    The RFK shooting... I was at that spot a least once a day during my time at the Ambassador... one day, I'll write a piece on that... worked with Emilio on BOBBY.

  5. What a beautiful write up. And what beautiful photography!

    Her death is so heartbreaking and senseless because she shouldnt have died. She needed attention, and many of us feel she was neglected by the people who should have been looking out for her.

    Not only was her husband there... her mother was there as well. 2 people living WITH her, not to mention all her friends who would stop by & knew she was sick & how badly she needed medical attention.

    You have written a beautiful tribute to her here and, again, your photography of her is amazing.

    I met & spoke with her briefly as well, back in 2005 when Sin City was coming out. She was so sweet, so down to earth. Taking time to sign things for fans, and to talk with everyone. She was a beautiful woman with such a kind loving heart.. and that plus the circumstances of her death, make it especially hard to take. :(

  6. Thank you for feedback and kind words. One can only wish that one can turn back time and some how fix things. I can tell you that Brittany was devoted to her mother (and my heart aches for her mother.) It was just such a sad day for all the people who loved Brittany... I will always carry a piece of her with me in my heart. Thanks again for your comments.

  7. What a tremendously sweet, insightful and well-written piece. Thankyou for sharing your personal memories of the much-missed Brittany. The photos are wonderful.