MOVING AMONG THE STARS31 May 2019 Written by By George Livingston
Published in June 2019 Articles
MY CAREER AS AN ENTERTAINMENT PHOTOGRAPHER
Igrew up in Richmond and attended public schools from kindergarten through high school.
In 1975, I graduated with a degree in Business Administration & Economics from Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas. The school was sponsored by the United Negro College Fund. It was broadening to be in a culture that presented such a contrast to my Bay Area upbringing.
Of course, I took my Instamatic to college with me and took pictures of interesting subjects, such as fraternity pledging. I enjoyed taking pictures of young ladies. One of my favorite subjects was Faye Rollins, the anointed Queen of the College. A few years ago, I connected with Faye and was delighted to learn that she had become a successful Texas lawyer.
Following graduation, I got a job working in sales for Gene’s Business Machines. My real life-changing job was a nights-and-weekends position as usher at the Oakland Coliseum. I had my camera with me at the Warriors and A’s games and at entertainment events. Following the games, I would go into the back areas and take candid shots of sports icons, such as Ricky Henderson, Stevie Nicks, and George Steinbrenner. I developed an easy manner with people and would get some of the big stars to pose with me for a “selfie,” long before we knew what they were called.
I eventually retired my Instamatic and invested in a Canon A-E 1 35 mm SLR. I learned about composition and exposure. I took a course from Chabot College on developing images and set up my own laboratory and darkroom where I developed black-and-white images. My pictures progressed far beyond snap-shot quality.
My cousin, Darwin Mitchell, was also working as a Coliseum usher. In 1979, following a Raiders Game, Darwin introduced me to a young lady who was a member of his crew. Her name was Linda Harris, but for the past 35 years it has been Linda Livingston. I was struck with her beauty and sparkling personality. I learned that she was a musician who played in various night clubs. She was also in an all-ladies band, but the first time I saw her play was at a jam session. I was captivated by the sight of her, beating on a set congas, as the only woman on the stage. She has played in bands for a number of A-list performers. She is currently playing with a Marvin Gaye tribute band. She coordinates their bookings and helps schedule performances.
Linda came from a family of entertainers including a cousin Bernie Hamilton, one of the stars on Starsky and Hutch. Bernie’s brother was Chico Hamilton, a jazz musician who appeared as a drummer in a band featured in the Sweet Smell of Success movie with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtiss.
Linda said she liked to go to Hollywood, so I picked her up in my car and spent a few days seeing the sights and actually met her famous cousin, Bernie. My cousin, Harvey Clavon, worked as camera man and producer at KTLA Television. He invited us to come by, and I took some pictures of him shooting a segment of the Richard Simmons show. We also met a group of women performers called Sister Sledge, who had a big disco hit, “We are Family,” that the Pittsburgh Pirates used as their theme in a world series competition. Of course, I took pictures of them.
A security guard at the Coliseum introduced me to his daughter, Robin Howard, who was performing with the Ice Capades. I took some pictures to help Robin promote herself. Charles Akens, who worked in the promotion department at the Coliseum, showed me an issue of Billboard Magazine and told me about an event coming up in Beverly Hills honoring Quincy Jones. We decided to attend, so Aikens, Robin, Linda, and I drove down. We didn’t have any credentials, so Linda and I just hung out in the lobby acting like we belonged there and watching for celebrities. The first one to show up was James Ingram, Quincy’s featured vocalist. He was followed by a number of A-list people, and I managed to get pictures of Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda, and Gladys Knight. I also took a picture of Lee Bailey, an entertainment journalist who was there with a tape recorder and a small boom mic.
After the celebrities went into dinner, I was hanging out in the lobby with Linda when a limousine pulled up to the curb, a man got out, and Linda silently mouthed to me “Michael Jackson.” I asked him if I could take his picture with Linda and got a great shot of them posing together. This was 1982. He had just finished production on “Thriller.”
I took my pictures to the Post Newspaper. They ran an article on the event and used four of my images. It became a turning point. I was a published photographer!
I returned to L.A. a few months later and offered pictures to Soul Teen Magazine. They ran pictures of Linda, Quincy Jones, Jonny Matthis, and the ice skater Robin Howard. That was a big feather in my cap!
I always believed that life is what you make of it. I’ll just keep making a life of interacting with Linda and with the amazing people in my network until the day when I simply can’t.
For the next three decades I continued ushering at games and concerts at the Coliseum. I became a regular contributor to the Entertainment section of the Oakland Post Newspaper. I learned that Janet Jackson was coming to the Bay Area to promote her solo career. I knew the manager at the Record Factory where she was going to sign autographs, so I showed up and photographed her. A couple days later I was taking more pictures of her appearance at Charlie Brown’s Restaurant in Emeryville. I had a copy of the current Black Beat Magazine with me. “Thriller” had just been released, and Michael Jackson was on the cover. I showed it to Janet and she asked if she could have it. (I wish I had bought another to keep for myself.)
I attended the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame a number of times and got pictures of such artists as Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Junior, Billy Dee Williams, and other leading entertainers of the day for the Post.
The Post editor, Gail Berkeley, gave me the assignment of shooting the 1985 Grammy Awards in Hollywood. I got some great pictures of Leonard Bernstein, Huey Louis, Henry Mancini, Joe Williams, Sammy Hagar, and many others. I became friends with Bill Gibson, who was Huey Louis’ drummer at the event. Bill gave me a backstage pass for a Huey Louis’ performance at the Forum in Los Angeles. When I got there, the opening artist, Bruce Hornsby, who sang the popular song, “That’s the Way It Is,” was attempting to get in. He didn’t have his credentials and might have missed the rehearsal completely if I hadn’t vouched for him.
The concert was a hot-ticket affair and a number of celebrities gathered backstage after the event. I got pictures of Billy Crystal, Vince Neal of Motley Crue, Sherry J. Wilson from the Dallas television series, and Maureen Hanner from the Taxi series.
In 1988, the Post assigned me to photograph the Academy Awards. My best friend Keith Graham went down there to hang out with me. He wasn’t working security at the event, but was a big hulk of a man, who looked like he could take down anybody who threatened one of the stars. That weekend we attended a charity marathon in Griffith Park hosted by Robert Wagner and Jimmy Stewart. I took pictures of them and other stars who were there, such as Barbara Eden, from I Dream of Jeanie and Joan Van Ark from Knott’s Landing.
We caught Robert Wagner coming out of the trailer. I greeted him and was astonished when he engaged me in friendly conversation. He asked me how I was doing and where I was from. Keith wanted to get an autograph. I later overheard someone saying, “I wish I could get an autograph, but that big bodyguard is scary!” That was a real laugh.
I was required to wear a tuxedo at the Oscars event. Since it was only one day and I thought I would probably never wear one again, I asked Dad if I could borrow his. I was much bigger than my dad, so I lost a lot of weight in order to fit into the tux. I don’t know if I saved more money on the tux rental or on all the food that I didn’t eat during that starvation diet. On the big day I felt foolish sweating in the hot sunshine in that monkey suit while some of the other photographers were dressed in jeans and black jackets.
I arrived early and went up on the portable bleachers so I could shoot down on the celebrities as they arrived before the event officially started. The fans around me were leaping up and down, shaking the bleachers in their enthusiasm, and vibrating my camera. I got some good pictures of Omar Sharif and Chevy Chase.
During the event itself I got some great pictures of Cher, who was Best Actress in Moonstruck and wore the famous Bob Mackey dress. Michael Douglas won Best Actor for Wall Street. Sean Connery was Best Supporting Actor for Untouchables, and Olivia Dukakis won for Best Supporting Actress for Moonstruck.
I had a wonderful career as an entertainment photographer. I shot the American Music Awards for 20 years. I photographed the last gathering of the Rat Pack at the Oakland Coliseum. It was the end of an era.
A friend of mine, Jonathan Moffitt, was Michael Jackson’s drummer. I first met him in 1981 while backstage at the Cow Palace for a Jacksons’ show. “You’re the drummer,” I told him. “I saw you on ABC 2020 and recorded a copy of your performance.” Jonathan also performed with Madonna, Elton John, and George Michael.
I’m not taking many pictures these days, but I represent people. I use my extensive network to get them opportunities and help them with their productions. My body is giving me problems. I’m currently dealing with stage 4 kidney cancer, and am going through radiation for a cancerous tumor on my arm. But I’m not done yet. Jonathan Moffitt and I are still doing things together. As I’m writing this, he just called me. Norman Carter, who was lead singer with the Delphonics, called me this morning.
I always believed that life is what you make of it. I’ll just keep making a life of interacting with Linda and with the amazing people in my network until the day when I simply can’t. It’s all good!
Photos by George Livingston