My friendship with James Ritz began in 1979 while he was associate producer on the acclaimed ABC movie, “ELVIS” starring Kurt Russell. Jim also produced the film’s music soundtrack and accompany soundtrack album. Both featured the singing talents of country singer Ronnie McDowell.
I had been told that Dick Clark was going to do a project about Elvis and that I should send him samples of my artwork, so I did. It was a busy, frantic Halloween when I was trying to get the kids ready in their costumes and make-up when the phone rang. On the other end was James Ritz telling me he had seen the Elvis art and would be in Nashville to record the music and would love to meet me. Arrangements were made to do just that. During my time in Nashville I had attended many recording sessions, with artists from Loretta Lynn to Conway Twitty; but being at this particular session was especially exciting because It was about Elvis and recorded RCA at Music Row.
During this same time period Bantam was scheduled to publish a collection of my Elvis drawings and ask me if I had anyone I wanted to write a forward to the book, I called Jim and he agreed….it was perfect, being an Elvis fan himself he hit the nail on the head with his words. He knew where I was coming from.
One of my prized possessions is a black jacket present to me by Jim. Dick Clark had them made for the production crew. For a long time I wore it but decided to put it away before something could happen to it. Lovely jacket. Now it does not fit quite the same….imagine that!
So who exactly is James Ritz? Besides being a great guy and friend. He is an actor/writer and producer, born in Chester, PA and graduated from West Chester University with a degree in English and a minor in Theatre Arts. His first taste of professional experience came while spending a season on Cape Cod doing summer stock with a couple other guys, fellow actors, by the name of Rob Reiner and Albert Brooks.
After college Jim was drafted into the Army and became a member of the 3rd Army Soldier show entertaining troops in nearly every military installation in Southeast United States. He was deployed to Viet Nam where he coordinated USO Shows throughout South Viet Nam.
Leaving the army behind he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting but his first success came as a writer when asked by Garry Marshall to be a member of the Happy Days writing staff. That was followed by writing for The Jeffersons, Good Times, Three’s Company, The Love Boat and many others. His love of music led him to writing for the NBC special, Neil Sedaka; Steppin; Out and the CBS summer series, The Marilyn McCoo – Billy Davis Jr Show.
During his time with Happy Days Jim and Ron Howard became not only professional friends but lifelong friends. He and Ron collaborated on the first featured release by Major H Productions, Howard’s company which eventually evolved into the enormously successful Image Entertainment. It was through Ron that Jim’s acting career took off and over the years he has appeared in more than a dozen Ron Howard films, these include: Splash, Cocoon, Gung HO, ED TV, Ransom, The Paper, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Cinderella Man, Angels and Demons & Apollo 13 for which he and fellow cast members were awarded the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Ensemble Cast. Some of Jim’s television appearance include Happy Days, Sea Quest, Brothers and Sisters, Scrubs, ER, Drop Dead Diva and a featured role on the FX pilot, Hoke starring Paul Giamantti.
Jim’s musical talents, which is what brought the two of us together, are eclectic. It was in 2000 that he emerged himself in the music world as a major contributor to Capitol’s highly-regarded Rick Nelson: Legacy box set. Since then he has been busy writing liner notes, annotated and/or produced nearly 200 CDs including releases on Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, The Coasters, Sammy Davis Jr, Bing Crosby, Bobby Rydell and Nat King Cole.
Jim lives with his charming wife, Suzanne who is French with a lovely accent, in Florida where he is presently working on a James Dean project, which I am sure will equal or surpass the quality of everything else he has put his touch to.
And the artwork I sent to Dick Clark? Well during an interview, years later, I saw my Elvis art handing on the wall in the hallway leading to Dick’s office.