Archive for June, 2012

John Knoll

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

John Knoll

This is a picture of John Knoll who is a friend of mine. I first met him in about 1985 at Industrial Light and Magic. John was a young intern that had been recommended to us by USC Film School. At first, he worked in the Art and Matt departments but he was so bright he got around the company quite a bit. I was working on “The Golden Child” starring Eddie Murphy and my boss Ken Ralston was trying to figure out how to shoot the scene where the Golden Child touches a dead butterfly and causes it to come to life.

John came up to me and said, “I built a mechanical butterfly when I was in college, would you show it to Ken? “Sure kid”, I probably said. It was an amazing little device but Ken passed on using it.

After a few years John started to rise in the employee ranks because he could do anything. If he needed something that didn’t exist, he built it. Mostly, now he wrote software and plugged it into our existing systems. His first real breakthrough was when he wrote the software that made possible the “water snake” in Jim Cameron’s, “The Abyss”. That was near the begriming of our slow shift over from photo-chemical to digital film making.

Soon, John was a local legend at ILM. He is the only guy I ever heard George Lucas refer to by saying, “Of course he’s a genius”.

But we had our fun with John. We used to say that John had an older smarter brother, and he did. His brother was Thomas Knoll.

But here is the punch line. John worked for us all day, but at night he had his own project which he had talked his “older smarter brother” into helping him with.

What was the project…? John and his brother wrote the software program PhotoShop, in their spare time. Aside from “Windows” I believe “PhotoShop” is the largest selling program ever marketed.

Our old intern John now has a very big house in Marin County, and he still works for ILM. But his brother has an even bigger house and he still lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The next time you open the PhotoShop program, note the first name on the credits…Thomas Knoll.

Mason’s Garage

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

In the late 1920’s my grandfather built this building in Sausalito, Ca. It was called “Mason’s Garage”, and that is where you parked your car if you were going to San Francisco or to Oakland, by ferry boat. Today, it is an upscale hotel, but if you look closely, to the first pillar at the left of the photo, you will see a little black square about half-way up. That is a brass plaque giving the building’s history. In 1932, Baby Faced Nelson worked in the garage. Since my great grandfather had built one of the first brewery’s in San Francisco in the 1850’s, his son was not about to go out of business just because of prohibition. The garage was the perfect place to warehouse liquor from the Mason Distillery (which had moved to Sausalito in 1895) and load it onto select Ferry boats leaving for San Francisco frequently. Someone had to quench the thirst of California. Joe Kennedy handled the East Coast, and we handled the West.


Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town”. Tolstoy

Mrs. Hickman

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

When I was a kid living in Marin County we had a next door neighbor named Mrs. Hickman who left her television running day and night. Whenever I went over to her place to take things my great aunt wanted her to have, the T.V. was always humming.

One day I asked my aunt about this and she said, “Oh, she doesn’t want to miss the broadcast of any old movies. You’re too young to remember but, do you know who she is”? That’s “Bessie Barriscale” and she was the biggest silent screen star in the country from 1910 on, for several years. Her husband was a film director and they worked for Thomas Ince, the biggest producer in Hollywood at one time.”

Years later, I pieced it all together. In the 1950’s television was relatively new and they filled air time with hundreds of old movies which they could get for practically nothing. The T.V. stations broadcast them almost randomly, you never knew when something might appear as the T.V. schedules were sketchy at best. So Bessie ran the television day and night to catch not only her old films but those of all her movie business pals.

Not only was she a major star for Thomas Ince, she was directed by Cecil B. DeMille in, “Rose of the Rancho”. Bessie had played opposite William Desmond Taylor in “Not My Sister”, and in later years Mary Pickford cast her as her daughter in, “Secrets”.

When I started studying Film in college I began to learn who some of these people were. For instance, Thomas Ince commanded a major Hollywood Studio and was murdered, some say by William Randolf Hearst, on the Hearst yacht. And when the great “Sunset Boulevard” was written for Gloria Swanson, she was given the composite screen name Norma Desmond as a echo to great silent star names of the past (William Desmond Taylor).