My name is Ron Avery, and my father was Sid Avery. When people ask if I’m Sid’s son, I joke, ‘That’s right, I’m S.O.S.,’ not the appeal for help mind you, but rather, ‘Son of Sid.’ For the 45 years I knew my dad, I always considered myself very lucky to hold that title. I tried to model my career after his and admired him not only as a person but for his work. To honor the memory of my dad, I thought it was high time to let others share in some of the magic he captured through his lens during his extraordinary career. More than that, though, I wanted the reader to hear, for the first time, my dad’s stories about the assignments he shot on and the interactions he had with some of the twentieth century’s most celebrated icons. These stories are sometimes as interesting as the images themselves.
I was always in awe of my dad’s work ethic. Whether I was helping him in his studio as a child during my summer break or when I began working with him full time as an adult, he always treated everyone with respect and kindness, from the first assistant down to the lab technician.
My dad was also known for his accomplishments as an innovator in his field. He came up with the technique of solarization used in motion picture film, in addition, he invented the first motion picture strobe that synced up with a film camera. Beyond that, though, he was the go-to photographer when it came to subjects who had a reputation for being difficult. What’s interesting is that, in most cases, when he would shoot these subjects, he encountered no difficulty at all, and that’s a testament to my dad. He treated these stars like people, and as a result, they treated him in kind.
A funny story to illustrate this, is when my dad was shooting an ad with Bob Hope for Cal-Fed, a California based bank. There was a full day of shooting to do, many different set-ups and props, so as the day wore on Mr. Hope’s expression became static. My dad was trying to coax a slightly different smile or pose out of him, but to no avail. At that point, with a flash, my dad shouted, ‘Come on Bob, Goddamnit! Get that shit-eating grin off your face and let’s go!’ Everybody froze, the art director gasped and Bob cracked a smile. After that, Mr. Hope loosened up and my dad got some nice shots. The client was pleased, and my dad’s instinct for people won the day again.
While the majority of the photos in this book were shot before I was born, or while I was a very small child, in 2001 I had a great opportunity to get a glimpse of dad working, as he would have been in his heyday. To set the scene: my dad famously photographed the 1960 cast of Ocean’s Eleven around the pool table; an iconic shot with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, and Dean Martin with the rest of the movie’s cast. Now, let’s cut to forty-one years later, in 2001, when we get a call from Warner Bros. They told me that Julia Roberts had seen my dad’s original photo in a New York gallery, and after sharing it with the director, Steven Soderbergh, and George Clooney, thought it would be a great idea to recreate this classic image with the current cast of the remake; one that included George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, to name a few.
At this point my dad was retired some thirty-plus years from the still photography business and was reluctant to take the job. He didn’t even own a professional still camera anymore. I explained to him that back in the day, he was able to work with the biggest stars of the 1950s and 1960s, and now he could do the same with today’s stars. I added that Bruce McBroom would assist and I would produce. He realized I was right and he picked up the phone to take Warner Bros. off hold and tell them he would take the assignment. I’m so glad he did too, because it turned out to be a real treat for the both of us. For me, having not been around when my dad shot James Dean on the set of Giant in 1955 or Steve McQueen driving through Nichols Canyon in 1960, I got a chance to see him really enjoy himself on this set amongst the current era’s A-list celebrities. The respect they gave him and the level of interest they showed in him was gratifying. From the producers, actors and director, they all showered him with affection. It was extremely rewarding to see him in that environment, and for my dad, it turned out to be a nice capper to his action-packed career.
This book of my dad’s photos and accompanying stories shows an insight into the man, as much as it does into the subjects he shot. As I went through my own family snapshots recently, I realized how few there were of just me and my dad together. He was always the one behind the camera capturing me enjoying time with my family and friends. Likewise, while dad’s not in the shots on these pages, his warmth, his talent and his skill shine through in the faces of those in the pictures. I trust that will be the lasting impression: not so much with the fame of the people in the photos, but with the artistry of the man who created them.
A common expression my dad used to say after I’d drive him somewhere was, ‘Thanks for the buggyride!’ Well, this time, thank you dad, it was a great ride.
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