Renowned photographer and Ojai resident Guy Webster passed away on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the age of 79.
With a career that spanned more than 50 years, Webster was an icon whose list of famous subjects was both wide and deep. A pioneer in rock-and-roll photography, he captured some of the biggest musicians of the 1960s and 1970s. But his client roster also included actors, politicians and celebrities of every stripe.
Born in Beverly Hills in 1939, Webster’s father was Academy Award- and Grammy-winning lyricist Paul Francis Webster. After studying at Whittier College, Webster joined the Army, where he was first introduced to photography. He returned to Los Angeles to study at the Art Center College, and began shooting portraits of pop singers for major record labels. Eventually, he trained his lens on the up-and-coming stars of rock and roll.
Webster built his reputation on his album covers and billboards for bands
such as The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Mamas and the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel and many, many more. The personal, laidback and sometimes humorous quality of his images reflected the spirit of their era, and are still widely considered iconic.
“Guy Webster came from a time before social media when the private lives of rock stars were not so much on display,” says Ojai musician and filmmaker Rain Perry. “He had an uncanny ability to find something intimate in a famous person through a photograph.”
His talent quickly took him beyond the music industry. He photographed numerous legends of the stage and screen: Eva Gabor, Bob Hope, Rita Hayworth, Natalie Wood, Barbara Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, both Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) . . . just to name a few. His other subjects included two U.S. presidents (Ronald
Reagan and Bill Clinton), composer Igor Stravinsky, writer Truman Capote, ice skater Dorothy Hamill and comedian Phyllis Diller. The list of famous names that posed for Webster is seemingly endless.
Webster kept a studio in Venice, but moved to Ojai in 1980, where he and his wife, Leone, raised two daughters, Jessie and Merry. (Webster was also the father of Sarah, Erin and Michael with his first wife, Bettie Beal.) He was an avid golfer, tennis player and motorcycle rider and collector. But locals might remember him best from his salon-style gatherings at Ojai Coffee Roasting Co. and, later, NoSo Vita.
“He had a regularly scheduled coffee appointment every single day,” singer-songwriter Perla Batalla says. “Everyone gathered there. . . . Guy grew up in this family of Hollywood royalty, and he would love to tell us stories about that.”
“Guy was one of our first friends in Ojai,” recalls Heather Stobo of the
Porch Gallery. “Lisa [Casoni] and I met him when we were sitting by ourselves at the Ojai Roasting Co. and Guy invited us to join his group . . . He couldn’t stand to see anyone sitting alone.”
According to Focus On The Masters founder Donna Granata, who documented Webster in 2009, “Guy was such an accessible figure in Ojai. Whenever you would see him in the coffee shop it was like he was holding court. Anyone could join the conversation and introduce themselves to him and he would be very gracious and inviting. Guy was a friend to everyone.”
After suffering a stroke in 2015, Webster gave up many of his physical activities. But his passion for photography and good company never wavered. In January the Porch Gallery hosted his most recent show, Ojai Behind the Mask, featuring portraits of local residents.
The famed photographer endures in his exceptional body of work, as well as in the memories of his exceptionally kind personality.
“He was famous for being the sweetheart that he was,” says Batalla fondly.
“When you saw him, you’d get a big hug and a warm welcome from a good friend. . . . Sometimes, that’s all you’d need to get through the day.”
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations made to the newly established Guy Webster Photography Fund at Oak Grove School, 220 W. Lomita Ave., Ojai, https://oakgroveschool.org/.