I have had the pleasure of being one of the luckiest people in the world. When my search for the free ski lift ticket started full time in 1946, there were less than 15 chairlifts in North America, and I could still buy gas for less than 20 cents a gallon if I searched long enough. Yes, you could still buy a Coca-Cola for 5 cents and a used car could be bought for less $200. The only downside was minimum wages were still 25 cents an hour and McDonald’s’ hamburgers had not yet been invented.
Since then, it has become a very different world with each passing year. I was lucky to get a job teaching skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1948 and Squaw Valley in 1949. When that 16mm movie camera showed up in my post office box in Sun Valley that day so long ago, it became my magic carpet to travel and film and share my home movies with whomever wanted to see them. It has been my lifelong career without ever working.
I had a discussion with someone recently about me writing my autobiography. I told them that I am as excited about writing it as I was when I was filming, editing and narrating footage of Jean Claude Killy skiing on a snow-covered, erupting volcano in New Zealand in 1968.
I’ve been trying to make notes of things that have happened in my life so that it might make writing my autobiography a bit easier. I usually wake up a couple of times every night anyway because of a medical problem that anyone my age has, and every time I wake up, I make some more notes about what happened in 1958 or 1937 or whatever year has emerged from a fold in my brain that night. This morning my notes read: “many dog bites, Encino, California 1932 or ’33.” They also mentioned an operating table where someone cauterized 42 dog bites, and this morning I remembered that the table was stainless steel.
Wait a minute! A hospital operating table has a white sheet on it and a veterinarian has a stainless steel table. The notes were about a near death incident I suffered from the teeth of a very large dog. The incident prompted my father to take me to a veterinarian instead of hospital because it would be cheaper. My memory is of me on the ground with that dog chewing on my shoulder and neck, shaking me like a rag doll.
The next note read: “1959, Bill Cooper led the four of us on an expedition up the Colorado River instead of down. We got as far as Lava Falls when he drove his boat into a humungous wave and sunk it. It took the rest of us four hours to recover whatever we could of the boat and other debris.”
Then there was the 3 a.m. note: “My first filming trip to Europe when I stayed in the best hotel in Zurs, Austria for four dollars a night, including three meals. Today, the same room with meals costs four hundred dollars.”
The note as I was waking up in the morning read: “Major change in Chamonix at La Flegere. I got to ride 10,000 vertical feet to the summit while sitting in a construction gondola that was nothing more than a few sheets of plywood.”
There was another note, a very short one: “Photographing a horse racing film that received an Olympic silver medal in an Italian film festival.”
That note got me thinking – it was really a hoot to be able to direct my cameraman what to shoot in Hawaii while I was running the home office. For instance, when Brian Sissleman first came to work for me, his first photo job was to film a chimpanzee that could ski. He was gone for two weeks and came back with only one roll of film. “Why so few feet of film?” I asked. He replied, “The chimpanzee was a lousy skier.”
The last note I looked over read: “December 27, 1984. That day, in the restaurant at the top of Baldy in Sun Valley, Idaho, I said to a pretty lady, ‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but I had breakfast with you and I hope your ex-husband, seven or eight years ago in the Edgewater Inn in Seattle. After breakfast you gave me a business card with blue ink on it. Is that true?’ She said, ‘Yes,’ and we have been together ever since because I married her two years later.”
All of this reminiscing is great fun for me. I’m writing my autobiography and I get to relive my entire life, day by day. Of course, some things will have to be left out of it or it will be so many pages long that people will fall asleep reading it.