Friday, May 28, 2021

In Memory of J.D. Chandler

My good old friend, John, known professionally as J.D. Chandler, passed yesterday, while in the hospital following his fifth heart attack.

We met in Jr. High School, 1975. John and Crazy Tom were budding film-makers, and they asked Dave and I, future rock stars, to create a soundtrack for their upcoming epic of the Spanish Civil War, The Unknown Soldier. It would take me several more years to catch the Hemingway reference there.

John and Tom would come by my house where Dave and I would set up in the garage and play our latest addition to the soundtrack. We'd ask how the script was coming, and if there were any pages we could see so we'd know what kind of a groove we were looking for. "Any day now," was always the answer. "Any day now."

At one of these garage sessions, my brother Miles stopped in to listen. After everybody had gone home, Miles asked who that older kid with the full beard was, somebody's older brother? No, just our friend John, fourteen like the rest of us.

After Dave moved out of town I joined with John and Tom in the film making and we created Ogilvy Cinema Productions. A Quiet Place to Live was the first major production under John's direction, and filming commenced in a room at the Vagabond Hotel rented for the project. The star was Shelly, who would be the star of nearly all of Ogilvy's productions, and my on-and-off sometime girlfriend through much of High School. But we met in a room at the Vagabond on Ventura Boulevard.

Other Ogilvy films directed by John in that period included Dismembered - a ripped from the headlines story of a jilted wife who dismembers her wayward husband, stuffs him into a trash bag or two, and takes him for a cross-country road trip - and Today is Friday - from Ernest Hemingway's one act play of the crucifixion (I played 1st Roman Soldier). 

Our final major Ogilvy effort, co-directed by John, Tom, and I, was Road Time - a documentary about the Small World Band, a San Diego group ready to burst out of the local scene and hit the big time (and, coincidentally, my brother, Steve's band). Our vision was to make a film that would book-end nicely with Martin Scorsese's Last Waltz, about the Band giving up the road and going their separate ways.

For John's eighteenth birthday we arranged to see eighteen films. We started with some early matinees of current releases, cheated a bit with a mid-day showing of that year's Oscar Nominated Shorts at the Nuart just to boost our numbers, and finished with the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Tiffany on Sunset. It was a fairly typical Saturday for us in those days.

Not to even begin to talk about all the concerts: The Kinks, Warren Zevon, The Kinks, Arlo Guthrie, The Kinks, Tim Curry, The Kinks, Flo and Eddie, The Kinks...

Then, just like that, our teenage years were over, some were off to college, others to work, John entered the Army, and Tom was in protective state custody. 

Not that the good times ended, they just slowed down a bit.

There was the time that we were all gathered at Bill's place just outside the Cal Poly SLO campus for a bout of heavy drinking, but were disturbed by the noise of traffic outside with horns blaring and people screaming. John, always one to take control of a situation, went out and, though he was barely able to stand, somehow got on top of a mail box or a trash can and began directing traffic and cleared up the situation in no time.

There's the story of the Morro Four (John, Dave, Bill, and I) and our arrest and trial for endangering the Peregrine Falcons nesting on Morro Rock while on our way to visit Tom (in protective state custody).

There was the time that John was stationed at DLI (Defense Language Institute) but on leave down in L.A. At the end of the visit he said it was time for me to drop him at the Greyhound bus station. I refused. He said it was either that or take him to DLI. I weighed the options: 20 minutes to North Hollywood or seven hours to Monterey? The answer was clear: one never turns down the opportunity for a road trip. We kidnapped Dave and Bill from their respective dorms along the way.

Visits back and forth slowed down as life and all the complications it brings came upon us, but we were never out of touch for very long.

The Morro Four held a reunion many years later in Reno, with a horseback ride along the Truckee River and visits to Virginia City (where you can see Mark Twain's commode) and some of the locations from The Misfits.

In 2010, John and I made a trip together to Hawaii to visit Pearl Harbor on December 7 (and go back on the 8th), crash every beach-side hotel bar in Honolulu, and still get up for the free Ukulele lessons each morning.

My wife, Leslie, and I visited John in Portland probably three or four times in the last decade and enjoyed his walking tours of Portland's most notorious murders, burials, and hauntings (view my videos of John's Portland tours here...).

John had succeeded as a writer, finding his niche in the lesser known - some might say seedy - history of the Portland area, publishing several books on the subject. Like me, he also continued the film bug with occasional short videos to YouTube, and he did a bit with Podcasts and blogging as well. He'd just recently picked up a guitar and was finally starting to learn that as well. I was looking forward to jamming with him on my next trip up.

And then, earlier this week, he posted to Facebook that he was in the hospital following his fifth heart attack. Last night his sister-in-law posted that he had passed that morning.

Of course, it had to be in a week when I was re-reading the short stories of Ernest Hemingway, and right in the middle of The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Farewell J.D. Chandler. He loved my Nana's knishes. May your memory be for a blessing.


  1. Ken please know that my heart is breaking now for someone I only know a little but always wish I could know better: you. Hell, man my heart is even breaking now for someone I never knew: J.D. What you wrote is XLNT thank you for giving me katharsis and letting me read kaddish.

    1. Thank you, Daniel. I'm pretty sure you and John would have gotten along quite well together.

  2. Very nice write-up. Very sad to hear of his passing. I hope some of his legacy lives on through his books.

  3. I always loved John. We shared an intense fascination with history and the macabre. I was fortunate enough to have him give me and my friends Howard and Kelly a personal tour of Portland crime locations. We all talked about that day for years until both Howard and Kelly eventually passed away. I treasure my JD Chandler book collection and his personal contribution to my own book in the form of a biography of infamous gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel.R.I.P., Dear John.

  4. This is wonderful. Thank you for writing this. I called him that Tuesday, and he said he would be fine. He sounded the same, chipper and cheerful. I never expected he would pass away that Thursday morning. The last thing he said was "Tell Don hello and that I miss him." My heart is still so very sad. We were going to collaborate on an essay, as we had in the past. RIP John, I love you.


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