Tribute to James 'Fitz' Fitzpatrick

Fitz was a treasure. He was one of the biggest, most powerful and positive influences in my life. One day I hope to find the words to express my own thanks to this exceptional human being.

In the meantime, I'm grateful for this tribute from my friend, James Edward Fitzpatrick, Fitz's son.


The Fitzpatrick Connection
aka spontaneous story telling

- by Jimmy Fitzpatrick

I was 20 years old when Fitz died. He died violently, a massive cardio-infarction. One massive blast of pain in an abrupt explosion of his heart. Today I'm 59. 39 years without Fitz? I've lived twice as long without him as I did with him? He was 44 when he died. I've lived 15 years beyond his time. His father, 'Earl.' died at 62, after years of living as a diabetic. He controlled his diet but still smoked two or three cigars each day. Earl controlled his temper, around me, but not around his employees nor his customers. Earl and Fitz. All of us a 'James Fitzpatrick.' James Earl, Sr.. James Earl, Jr., and then me, James Edward Fitzpatrick. There's been a James Fitzpatrick in our clan as far back as I can trace. Thomas Fitzpatrick, buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, in 1854, had a brother James. When Tom ("Two Fingers," "Broken Hand") rode through California with Jedediah Smith in 1845, James, nor none of his other brothers, was with Tom.

100 years after Tom we moved from Bird Rock to Topanga Beach one year after Earl had died of a heart attack. James Earl, Jr., Fitz, brought us to live on the beach so he could delve into Hollywood and develop a career that would include record producing, book publishing, television production, motion picture production, directing, editing, television commercials, and perhaps most importantly, as a result of his collaboration with Johnny Stewart's "Tops of the Pops" television programme at the BBC, the birth of music videos in 1964, one year after publishing the "Surfing Guide to Southern California."

Craig Stecyk and I have often spoken about the democratization of surfing brought about by the story and movie of "Gidget," yes, but even more by the publication of the "Surfing Guide to Southern California" and then Tom Morey's Boogie boards. The 'trinity' of bringing surfing to the masses.

"Gidget" created the allurement and the excitement and the "OHMYGAWDLETSGOSURFING!!!" frenzy..."Quick, let's go surfing!" "OK! Where?" Ah, 'the' book. Inspired by a particular southwest swell with offshore winds that forced the LAX bound airliner out over the ocean in order to land. Fitz was returning from Washington, DC, looking out at the aerial display and the thought came to him, "If you had aerial photos of all the surfing spots then you'd know where to go to get the best waves..."

Two parts of the Trinity were in place...what and where; all that was needed was the 'how,' and that's when Morey's brainchild gave everyone the opportunity to ride waves. ANYBODY could Boogie!

The impact of the "Surfing Guide to Southern California" was a breakdown of a code or at worst a culture that was developing without guidelines to the non-participant. Before 'the' book the only way to know where to go surfing was to go surfing and discover where to go. 'The ' book helped eliminate some of the sense of discovery by assuring one of at least knowing where access might be, where waves might be had. There are those that will never forgive Cleary, nor Fitz, for what might have been without 'the' book.

Nonetheless, 40 years later it's still accurate. Cleary knew what he was doing. Stern wanted desperately to know and to be included and be part of what was cool and real and genuine, and despite his efforts I don't know if he was ever comfortable with his participation or accomplishment. One looks at the surf industry today and one could ask, "Where did all of this come from? How did all of this happen?"

'The' book became a legal debacle. Fitz borrowed money for everything, and 'the' book was no exception. Stern was the financier, perhaps attempting to buy his way into celebrity and coolness. The book that was going to sell millions of copies never sold out its first run of 5000 copies. It was a bust. Stern's investment was to be paid off by future editions. He sued. I found the file a few years ago. Nasty shit. Thick file. Names and allegations. Fingers were pointed and friendships and alliances were torn asunder.

Not unlike the debacle surrounding the first music 'videos' Fitz created for the BBC. It's a current legal SNAFU. Fitz produced these little 16mm films for "Tops of the Pops" featuring the American musical act that was getting the most attention in England at that time. The first few shows utilized lip-synching and were shot indoors. Len Barry singing, "Candy from a Baby." But the BBC changed their policy, and lip-synching was banned so the result was playing the song as a soundtrack with the artists doing whatever for the visuals. "Monday Monday" by the Mamas and the Papas featured their cavorting inside the new clothing store, Fred Segal, on Melrose a block from Fitz's studio. "The Lonely Bull" by Herb Alpert featured Herb at the Beverly Drive pony ride. (there's a memory!)

Fitz's BBC films were stored in CFI's vault when one Malcolm Leo discovered them 20 years ago while producing Beach Boys television special. The vault guys tracked me down; Malcolm made promises and sent a letter; I released the films; and now Malcolm won't return them and, of course, is selling them (Bobbi Gentry; Otis Redding; The Supremes; Gene Clark; Mamas and Pappas; The Beach Boys; etc.) as his own original productions. Another 'wannabe' attaching his celebrity to someone else's accomplishment. (Fuck you, Malcolm, you're a liar in the same league as Dick Cheney.)

All these projects are part of Fitz's 'wake.' But his place in surfing will always be attached to 'the' book, and with any luck, and perhaps a lawyer looking for a 'project,' I'll be able to establish his pioneering work with music videos. The Rock and Roll museum in Cleveland is ready to receive them when I get me mitts on them. I keep claiming I'm going to contact my long time friend, George Molifua. George's sons and nephews were the recipients of several Powell Peralta skateboards in the 80s and the 90s when he first started doing security for ASR's Trade Shows. George is someone you don't want to inconvenience.

Fitz's time at Topanga Beach will always be recalled by those who met and played with him, as a time of laughter and a certain care-free availability to everyone. He loved life because his life was nearly taken from him so many times, especially in the whole Japanese war camp scenario. For that, that enthusiasm, I will forever be indebted. While he was alive, and on a few occasions with him, I whined and complained. He was bewildered. "What are you complaining about, what have you got to complain about?" was his question. Which messes with me. It's why I don't call George Molifua, because I know it's going into a negative realm, and I'd rather wait for Malcolm Leo, the fucking liar-asshole that he is, to come to his senses and give back Fitz's films.

For me, I always retreat to an experience Fitz and I had in Africa in 1965. I had graduated from high school and was working in Hollywood for David Ronnee as a sound technician and fill-in sound mixer when Fitz hired me as his sound mixer on the crew with Michael Murphy and Basil Bradbury to go to Africa to work on the "The Big Ones" television series he was producing.

We were in what is now Botswana, and after three weeks in the bush Fitz and I found ourselves one afternoon all alone. He and I and a Land Rover. We had set up Murphy and Brad on a two-camera shoot of a herd of wildebeest, and we had to get out of camera range, so we drove for miles away from the area. Turned off the engine and got out of the Rover. Standing there he lit up a Camel and looked about. "Well, tiger," he said, "it's you and me and the entire continent of Africa," he paused, and right then the entire continent of Africa felt big and vast and wild and more expansive than anything I had ever or have ever experienced, and there was almost a chill in the 100 degree temperature, and I clearly recall thinking, "Holy shit...we don't have any guns, we're out here on our own, without a radio, do we have any water...what the fuck?"

And Fitz, taking a long drag on his Camel before flicking it onto the dry ground, says, "I sure as hell hope this fuckin' Land Rover starts up when we get back in it!"

Jimmy Fitzpatrick (James Edward)

Santa Barbara, CA 
June 2007

The Fitzpatrick Connection James Edward Fitzpatrick 2007 - All Rights Reserved


Also read Bill Cleary's dedication to Fitz in the 35th Anniversary Nostalgia Edition of Surfing Guide to Southern California, published in 1998.