My friend, Andy Romanoff, said these words to his daughter Zan when she became bat mitzvah. I never forgot them and repeated them to my own sons more than once.

I’ve known Andy for 30 years as a fellow parent of our youngest sons in our Nursery School, Day School, and congregation, and over that time I’ve not only grown exceptionally fond of him, but I cherish him as a dear friend. For anyone, however, who knows us both, they would say that we are as unlikely to be good friends as any two Jewish men are likely to be, though we share an early traumatic event in our lives, the death of our fathers when he was 7 and I was 9. Our lives diverged in dramatic ways since then. Mine went the rabbinic route and his went wild as a young man and then settled into a successful Hollywood cinematic career and family man.  

I write this blog not only to share my love and respect for this man, but to make a happy plug for his new book that he calls Stories I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. It’s a wonderfully honest tell-all memoir vividly told and, at times, shockingly true stories reflecting his remarkable life that easily could have ended 60 years ago in a drug death or a prison term. As I read his stories and as I’ve come to know him, I’m reminded of the lyrics of “Gee Officer Krupke” from West Side Story:

”Gee, Officer Krupke, we’re very upset; / We never had the love that ev’ry child oughta get. / We ain’t no delinquents, / We’re misunderstood. / Deep down inside us there is good!”

After Andy’s father died at the tragically young age of 37 (4 days after I was born in December, 1949), no matter what his mother did to rein him in, Andy went wild, but he was always “deep down good.”

Born in Chicago in 1942, Andy left home at 17, ran around the country hitchhiking with big rigs, riding and stealing motorcycles and cars, robbing motels of their furniture to furnish his east Hollywood apartment, doing drugs (he was known as “Captain Gas” – i.e. Nitric Oxide), living on a commune, loving women and mechanical devices of all kinds, becoming a photographer, then a cinematographer, directing films and even working with Steven Spielberg on his film 1941. Spielberg respected Andy’s work but when he learned Andy was a heavy drug user, wouldn’t hire him again.

Professionally, Andy is credited with developing what is called the Louma Crane. He describes himself as “…the high priest of this new technology. Using the Louma we could move the camera almost anywhere, and most days I could make it do what it was supposed to do…the Louma changed how fast and far the camera could move in a scene.”

The Louma changed Andy’s life. A gifted photographer and cinematographer (see https://andy-romanoff.pixels.com/ for examples of his moving and beautiful images) he ran Panavision Remote Systems and later became the Executive Vice President of Technical Marketing and Strategy for Panavision Worldwide. 

Married eventually to the love of his life, Darcy Vebber, who ought to be credited with helping Andy bring that goodness inside Andy to the fore for all to see and experience, they are the parents of two terrific young adult children, Zan (Alexandra) and Jordan.

The Romanoffs traveled with me on a family journey to Israel years back and an adult journey visiting Jewish sites (mostly memorials to the victims of the Holocaust) in Central Europe. On this latter trip, Andy disappeared one day. I asked Darcy where he went and she said he was out photographing images of religious icons as part of his project that he called “1001 Buddhas” (you can see some of those images by going to the link above).

Andy writes in ways that are similar to the pictures he takes – cinematically; keenly aware of every word in a sentence, and of light, angles, and imagery in a photograph. His daughter Zan is a terrific writer too, and I close with snippets of her words about her father that he included in his book:

“My parents were honest with me when I was growing up; there was no sense that my dad’s past, which involves everything from stealing motorcycles and running away from home as a teenager to adult stints in various kinds of lockup, as well as work in strip clubs and on the sets of pornos, along with all of those drugs, was anything hidden, shameful or mysterious.

My father and I are temperamentally akin–volatile, driven, exacting; generous with people we love and difficult with people we don’t–but our biographies could hardly be more different. He was, for most of his life, the breathing incarnation of a bad boy; I have never been anything less than the perfect example of a very good girl…

I love his stories because they’re rich and funny and foreign to me; because they humanize a set of people living at a time that has largely been romanticized into toothless flower-power nostalgia, or a glorious, consequence-free drugged-out haze–but I am also aware, every time he tells them and every time I tell them, that we are marveling at adventures that nearly killed him, over and over and over again. My father’s stories are legendary, but they are not the whole of his life. And in fact, my life with him is only possible because he lived past those legendary days, and into these long, boring, beautiful ones…

“Follow your heart; but be smart about it.” Andy came to that wisdom the hard way.

You can purchase Andy’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/stories-ive-been-meaning-to-tell-you