6 minutes reading time (1205 words)

Warren Miller: Celebrate Thanksgiving All Year

Filmmaker Warren MillerI don’t think Thanksgiving should only be celebrated one day each year. For me, Thanksgiving is a 365-day-a-year celebration for everything that has come one’s way.

I just returned from celebrating my 90th birthday in Los Angeles with my three adult children. I was born in Hollywood in 1924 when the entire Los Angeles basin had less than one million people. Today I believe there are approximately 15,000,000 people living there. 

I have no idea what percentage of those people were born there, but I do know that Southern California has attracted more than its share of entrepreneurial renegades. A renegade from Pittsburgh might have met up with a renegade from Chicago and the children grow into the Southern California look.

In the early 1950s when I first started traveling to Europe to produce my ski films, I could spot a Southern California lady half a block away, because she just looked different.

My grandmother, grandfather and his brother got on a train in Wilmington, Delaware sometime in the 1890s and got off the train in Los Angeles and the odds were stacked in my favor from then on.

In the early 1900s some tycoons who had made their money in the Eastern United States with oil and coal and railroads, opened all of the Southern California basin with Big Red streetcars you could ride from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena, San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, or Long Beach for about 25 cents each way.

That’s when my vagabond genes kicked in and I rode those streetcars and then my bicycle until I was old enough to hitchhike and then I went farther hitching rides from generous drivers.

Like everywhere in the world, Southern California has changed a great deal since I left there when I was 60 years old.

Living at the beach as I did for so many years most of my friends who came to my party were beach people. Some of them I had not seen for as long as 30 years.

Forty years ago I paid Jerry Costello, one of the guests, fifty cents to sweep the sand off of the sidewalk in front of my beach house. When he got through, I suggested he do the same thing for my next-door neighbor who also paid him 50 cents. Later that day while surfing together, I suggested he go to Sears and Roebuck and buy a power sweeper and get more sidewalks in front of beach houses to sweep clean. 

Today Jerry owns 88 big humongous street sweepers and sweeps city streets from Los Angeles to Sacramento to San Diego as well as Las Vegas. There was a need and I’m thankful he filled it.

I’m thankful I had the opportunity to give a nudge to change Jerry’s life and thankful for a lot of other things I saw in Los Angeles and in my life in general.

Thankful I got to sit in the morning sun in an outdoor restaurant in Redondo Beach and watch a 1928 Model A Ford convertible sedan drive up and park almost silently it was so well tuned. I had not seen a car with wooden-spoked wheels on the road for at least 60 years.

Later that same day in Burbank I saw a Mercedes-Benz limousine that had been modified into a four-door convertible and painted brilliantly white. What I was really thankful for was I did not have to pay the $250,000 price tag for the modification.

I’m also thankful because when Pearl Harbor was bombed Dec. 7, 1941, I was only 17 years old and a senior in high school. Instead of being on the aircraft carrier that day and losing my life, along with 800 other sailors, I was surfing at Malibu in small knee-high waves and the only person in the water. 

I did not hear President Roosevelt’s speech until I had driven halfway home in the gathering darkness. Subsequently, I’ve been very grateful for our strong military that defeated two horrible threats that wanted to take us out…and our homeland has been mostly safe because of them.

Every time I get out of bed in the morning I am thankful I can look ahead to one more day of retirement. I can’t really use the word retirement because in my brain I don’t believe I ever had a real job. When I was very young, I had a few short-term jobs making milkshakes at a soda fountain, waiting tables in a restaurant, digging ditches, pounding nails, and teaching skiing. All of which led to a life of leisure traveling the world with my camera in my pocket.

Recently, I came to the realization that movie camera of mine was a magnet for people with incredible abilities to change the world. I was able to have a half hour conversation with astronaut John Phillips while he was going around the world every 90 minutes in a space capsule. 

Thankful to have skied and filmed President Jerry Ford, vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, VP Dan Quayle; thankful that I could film young skiers like Scott Schmidt while they were in the process of inventing extreme skiing. 

Even more thankful I didn’t have to do the double back flips with a triple twist! Instead I just stood on the side of the hill while they flipped and twisted through the air and the more flips they could do while in the air, the more money they made.  

I am very thankful I met my wife, Laurie, 30 years ago on the top of Mount Baldy in Sun Valley. She has changed my life one thousand percent for the better ever since.

For the next five or six months I will be thankful every day while living in Montana because Jack Kemp introduced me to a man who we all thought was the ultimate dreamer.

He conceived and started the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana, the world’s only private ski and golf club. Once it was up and running and stumbling toward success or bankruptcy, it was beyond failure and I’m more than thankful Sam Byrne stepped in and saved it from total bankruptcy. 

I’m thankful for the fantastic staff that operates this one-of-a-kind oasis in a world that appears to have gone mad if you watch the evening news. There are a lot of days in my 90 years to be thankful for.

I know the Pilgrims had roast venison and corn on that first Thanksgiving Day and that I probably had a bottle of warm milk on my first Thanksgiving Day. 

When Laurie picked me up at the depot after my long trip from Los Angeles, we both realized we had an abundance of things to be thankful for and to only celebrate Thanksgiving for one day year wasn’t enough. 

From now on I’ll be celebrating it better 365 times a year except for leap year when I will be celebrating it 366 times. I hope you’ll join me in making your Thanksgiving days better starting every morning when you realize you can put your feet on the floor and go out and make that day better than the one before it.

Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller (Warren Miller Freedom Foundation)


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