By Mark Garcia (’72)
So what is the story behind the HHS auditorium mural and why has the work recently been supplemented with the portrait panel of one of our most famous alumni, the late John Ritter?
Back in the spring of 2000, Los Angeles based muralist Eloy Torrez was looking for a suitable location to produce a personally relevant work that would make an impacting visual statement about diversity in Hollywood’s entertainment industry. As a baby-boomer and avid consumer of 60’s and 70’s pop-culture television and music, Eloy was always taken with the entertainment industry and the ethnic melting pot of talent that for decades found their way onto Hollywood movie lots and recording studios. Being of Hispanic origin himself from Albuquerque, N.M, Eloy was particularly sensitive to how the “Hollywood dream” served as a magnet for aspiring young talent from wide ranging cultural identities. Eloy was already an exhibited oil-on-canvas painter in Europe and the U.S., as well as a well recognized participant in the Southern California muralist community when he started his search for the ideal outdoor location for his new work. The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency/Community Development Department had previously backed the Otis College of Art and Design graduate with a grant to produce a “Legends of Hollywood” mural that adorned the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee Street, until the Northridge earthquake devastated the work in 1994.
Then in the spring of 2000, Eloy finally discovered an ideal canvas – the large expanse of frontage wall over the Highland Avenue entry to the Hollywood High School Auditorium. Eloy met with then HHS principal Dr. Floria Trimble, an African American, and convinced her to facilitate, with the support of LAUSD, the installation of the diversity in entertainment mural on the auditorium. He proposed to Dr. Trimble that celebrities Cher (Armenian), Dorothy Danwich (African American), Lawrence Fishburne (African American), Dolores Del Rio (Mexican) and Bruce Lee (Chinese) would be representative of diversity in mainstream entertainment. So as to make the work even more relevant to HHS students and alumni, Dr. Trimble formed an advisory committee of faculty and students to also select for inclusion in the work HHS alumni who were established success stories in film, television and music. The committee selected HHS celebrity alumni Brandy, Ricky Nelson, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett and Lana Turner. Eloy and his team of dedicated assistants required two years, often toiling in hot and cold weather, to complete the mural, which had the support of the Hollywood Arts Council; the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles; Jackie Goldberg, Assemblymember, 45th District; Eric Garcetti, Councilmember, 13th District; and Tom LaBonge, City Councilmember, 4th District.
So what about the John Ritter connection? Many are aware of John having been elected as HHS student body president in 1966, as well as John’s string of situation comedy successes on network television. The year 2003 was the inaugural year of the Jimmy Kimmel Live late night television talk show. Jimmy Kimmel Live routinely taped across the street from HHS at the El Capitan Entertainment Center on Hollywood Boulevard. One of Jimmy’s first guests in 2003 was John Ritter. Jimmy was aware of John having been an alumni of HHS. During John’s interview, Jimmy asked him why his likeness was not included in the HHS auditorium mural across the street. John appeared to be perplexed and could not answer Jimmy’s query. So, Jimmy promised John that he would look into it. After the untimely passing of John later that year (just days before the 2003 HHS Centennial celebration at the Universal Studios Hilton Hotel, where John was scheduled to appear), Jimmy helped organize funding to re-engage Eloy to add John’s likeness to the HHS auditorium mural. Rather than just add John’s image to the existing work, backers of the work requested Eloy to create a dedicated mural panel to John. Eloy thought it appropriate to render John as a presenter on a talk show, in tribute to the influence that Jimmy Kimmel had on adding John’s likeness to the work. Hence, today we see a full-body likeness of John Ritter on the north wall of the HHS auditorium facing Selma Avenue. John appears to be looking across the street toward the Jimmy Kimmel Live show studio location. He is posed pulling back a show curtain as if to introduce us all to the wonderfully diverse work of entertainment.
(At the time of this writing, a special dedication of the John Ritter/HHS auditorium panel is being planned involving John Ritter’s family, current HHS principal Fiona Bishop and other HHS administration and students.)