Remembering John Travers

“06880” reader Alice Horrigan writes:

A vibrant town has creative teachers and students. In the 1970s Westport was one such town, and John Travers — who died in Hollywood last month at 57 — was one of those kids.

As a young boy he loved horror movies. For Ed Clark’s 6th grade “Projected Art” class, John created an animated chess game. From then on he used film for many assignments.

There was no film program at Staples High School when John was 15. So he and Kent Hickenlooper formed their own Compo Film Center.

They made movies and held festivals at Staples, Saugatuck Congregational Church and the Seabury Center, with themes like “A Day of Comedy” and science fiction billed as “The Ultimate in Screen Horror.”

He and lifelong friend Scott Deaver turned Staples into something of an incubator for classroom filmmaking. They filmed cowboys riding horses down Main Street for “Basura del Oeste” (“Garbage of the West”), for Scott’s Spanish class, exploding blood squibs that Scott fashioned from firecrackers for realistic gunshot wounds.

They also filmed a man running for his life down the Longshore entrance, demonstrated the laws of physics with “William Tell” and arrows in science class, and shot a sci-fi fantasy about robots at Compo Beach.

John Travers, filming at Compo Beach.

John Travers, filming at Compo Beach.

John was inspired by creative people, but also faced tragedy. His father Robert, a novelist, died of cancer when John was just 14. His half-sister Mary Travers was an accomplished musician (of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary), but too busy to be close to him.

He channeled his pain and joy into filmmaking. He steadily mastered storytelling and technical aspects including lighting, photography and editing.

After graduating from Staples in 1977 John attended the University of Bridgeport, and was a finalist in the American Cinema Editors’ editing contest. He worked for Westport director Sean Cunningham (of “Friday the 13th” fame), and for local documentarians Bill Buckley and Tracy Sugarman, editing a PBS film about civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

His award-winning short “Jenny,” filmed at Nyala and Wakeman Farms, was screened at the 1st Fairfield County Film Festival.

A film festival poster

A film festival poster

John moved to Hollywood, and worked for legendary filmmaker Roger Corman.

John’s perfectionism and quiet ways were a blessing to his work, but at times a liability in a town where schmoozing often trumps talent.

In Los Angeles John met and dated 1976 Staples grad Alice Horrigan. They co-wrote “Conversations in Public Places,” a finalist in the Motion Picture Academy’s Nichol Screenwriting Competition. It found a producer, and would be John’s 1st feature film as a writer and director.

But just as things were looking up, John felt the producers wrecked it.

He picked up the pieces, and built a reputation as an “editor’s editor.” He worked on dozens of films, and co-produced and directed the documentary “The Resurrection of Victor Jara.” It screens at the Havana Film Festival this month.

Had Westport not provided a welcoming setting for developing his interests, he might not have had the resilience to persevere in Hollywood. Had he known he’d make an early exit — sudden death from arterial sclerosis — he might have taken time to thank his home town.

Ninth grader John Travers and his half-sister, Mary Travers.

Ninth grader John Travers and his half-sister, Mary Travers.

John is survived by nieces Alicia Travers Bonney and Erika Travers Marshall, and 2nd cousins Mary Jane Williams and Jim Duke.

A memorial service will be held at Saugatuck Congregational Church this Saturday (December 10, 1 p.m.).

6 responses to “Remembering John Travers

  1. Thank you, Dan Woog…condolences, love and peace to the family,

  2. I remember John when he was a toddler. His dad and mine were friends and Friday night poker buddies. Sad to hear of his untimely departure.

  3. John and I sat next to each other in Karl Decker’s class my Sophomore year. I was new and he was very welcoming in his quiet way. Strangely, I can’t remember any other configuration of any classroom from any grade except that one – that John sat on one corner of the U shape and I at the other. We talked sometimes although he wasn’t chatty – but his warm, smart presence was comforting. Maybe that’s why I have such a distinct memory. I often wondered what kind of man he became – and now I know. A good one – and it seems no surprise. I regret I cannot attend Saturday’s service but send fond condolences.

  4. I remember John and I remember you too, Miss Tierney. This is sad news. I have to add (with a bit of caution) that it is rather disconcerting when I learn of my students who die before I do…John “may flights of angels hasten thee to thy rest…” Patricia, be well, be safe. –Karl Decker

  5. Thank you for a lovely article. I am Jim Duke’s wife, Peggy. I first met John (we all called him Johnny) when he was 17 and had come to Brownsville TN with his mother, Beverly, for his grandfather’s funeral. The only shoes he brought were low top Converse and the toes were worn out. Jim’s dad went to the town square and got him some “proper” funeral shoes. We also visited him in CA and got to see his little place and where he did his editing.

  6. Fond memories of John Travers, Kent Hickenlooper and other mentioned in the article. So sad to hear of John’s passing…