Hillman Curtis: The Ease of His Being

So soft spoken was Hillman Curtis, who died yesterday after battling cancer for three years, that I was always put at ease in his presence. His soothingly rhythmic voice – with its subtle California lilt – went counter to his enviable ambition to be a serious filmmaker. The movie business is not known for its soft spoken practitioners, but Hillman pursued his passion his way, which was just as enviable as his ambition.

I did not know him as well as I would have liked. But the man I did know I liked very much.

When we got together, I’d routinely guide the conversation to talking about his uncle, Chris Hillman, the bass player and a singer for the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, among others. I was a big fan, and Hillman was my six-degrees of separation. But more important, we’d talk about films and filmmaking – something I always wanted to do and he was doing with so much joy. Hillman even did a film called Artist Series: Four Illustrators, which was more-or-less about me.

Hillman, I’m so grateful.

The last time I saw him was eight or nine months ago, in my office, filming me for a podcast touting a new graphic design textbook that included me. It was great to see him again. He had a tranquil impact on my being. His direction was also stress-free. For him, “action!” was not a command but a suggestion.

When I heard he was directing Stefan Sagmeister’s “The Happy Film,” I thought this is a good long-term project that will keep his cancer at bay. Cancer, after all, would not dare to interfere with the creative process. Sadly, that is not the way things really work.

This song sung by his Uncle Chris somehow reminds me of the Hillman Curtis who will be greatly missed. (Read Hillman’s obituary in the New York Times.)

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