After almost a year aboard a couple of ships in the South Pacific, I finally had accumulated enough points to earn a discharge and a mustering-out check.
I was walking down Market Street with that hundred-dollar check in my pocket when I paused in front of a camera store and an 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera caught my eye. That check was enough to buy the camera for $79 and three rolls of film. That purchase changed my life forever.
The next day I put my surfboard in the back of the car and was at Malibu by 9:30 a.m. along with my new camera. By the time I exposed my first roll of film I realized this was going to be a very expensive hobby because I needed a tripod and a telephoto lens to get decent images.
Where the sudden interest in motion picture photography came from, I don’t have the slightest idea. When I was attending the University of Southern California I never even entered the building where film classes were held. I did buy a book on how to make movies and that was my education.
While I was gathering all of this equipment, I became addicted to Kodachrome.
I really enjoyed filming a big day at Malibu and then showing the results at a friend’s house. That summer I got a phone call from the wife of a friend of mine inviting me to a tuna casserole dinner. She asked me to bring my screen, projector and surfing pictures. Thus began the tuna casserole circuit. This is where I started to learn how to edit film after mentally writing the script for it and then narrating it live. Of course, my shows were without music.
At the end of the summer Ward Baker and I left Southern California in a Buick towing a $200 teardrop trailer and my projector and the surfing pictures.
In Utah, our first stop, most of the skiers had never seen surfing, so I had a ready audience for my movies. That winter while Ward and I traveled the West, I showed the surfing pictures wherever I could – still not knowing this would be the start of a lifelong career.
Ward Baker also had an 8mm camera and we took countless rolls of film of each other skiing so we could look at them and learn to ski better. By spring, we had shot a lot of ski action and so I decided to show that ski action to my friends in Malibu. And of course many of them had never seen snow.
By now I was supporting myself as a carpenter in the daytime and messing around with my 8mm movie editing gear in the evening. Ward’s and my Southern California friends had seen my surfing movies and were now enjoying our ski movies.
After the first two winters of ski-bumming in Sun Valley, Idaho, in the fall of 1948 I got a job teaching skiing at Sun Valley. I still carried my 8mm camera in a small leather case on my belt and took pictures for future use.
I was growing the business for 14 years before I hired a cameraman to help me get the pictures. Having never taken a business course, I had no idea what I was doing. I just loved filmmaking.
I recently completed my autobiography. I guess I was really a pack rat. Going through years of memorabilia, I found a file of productions. Counting TV spots, stock footage, sales of resort films, TV shows, subjects ranging from horseracing to the Colorado River, there is a total of 626 films.
And the whole thing started with a 8mm camera on the beach at Malibu and an addiction to Kodachrome.
I produced my first movie when I was teaching at Squaw Valley the year it opened in 1949-50 and only had one chairlift, two rope tows, four ski instructors and accommodations for 42 people.
An idea and a little hard work can take you a long way as long as you like what you do. It’s taken me to 90 years old.