As one close friend coined it, a light went out on Sunday, July 26, when longtime Glendale resident Velvet Rhodes, the idiosyncratic founder of the Glendale International Film Festival, died in hospice care after a four-year battle with stage-4 cancer.
Rhodes, who was 70, is survived by a brother in Tennessee and a cousin in Arizona. She leaves with her friends and colleagues the memory of a strong-willed woman whose fashion ensemble for the day would often announce her arrival to an event, whose passion for performing arts and her festival were positively radioactive, and who, by numerous accounts, would not take “no” for an answer.
“I think really that’s the thing that stood out most about Velvet,” said Elissa Glickman, CEO of Glendale Arts, which operates the Alex Theatre. “At our first meeting, she pitched me an idea and concept that I wasn’t so keen on, but what her project could have brought to the community was so important that she made us believe that our vision could be her vision and it could translate into something really special to our community.”
Rhodes’ lasting contribution to the city, the Glendale International Film Festival, was formed in 2014 and was frequently hosted in the Alex Theatre. It is slated to continue this year, in virtual format, on account of the pandemic.
“She was so passionate about the film festival,” said Peggy Smith, a friend and fellow member of Glendale Sunrise Rotary. “She didn’t do it for herself. She was doing it because it was important to her to bring to the forefront young authors and screenwriters and filmmakers, so they could get a bit of a start through the film festival. She also did it to bring more immortality to the greats in film.”
Rhodes was born as Patricia Laura Adams on Aug. 16, 1949, in Los Angeles, and was raised in Pacific Palisades. A precocious girl, she left her family’s home as soon as she could and set out for the world, where she adopted Velvet Rhodes as her name.
“I am imagining she was a very strong-willed child, because she was certainly a strong-willed adult,” Smith explained. “Her mom and dad were crazy about each other, and they didn’t really have time for children. As a result, she did not grow up in a loving, cozy home, and she left home at a very early age.”
An early fan of writers, composers and playwrights, Rhodes studied at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art in London, where she also ventured into singing in rock bands, theater performances and oil painting. Rhodes ultimately returned to L.A., where her career included uncredited roles in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Rocky II” and “Batman Forever.” She settled in Glendale in 1989 and would eventually join local clubs such as Sunrise Rotary, the Glendale Chamber of Commerce and the Glendale Kiwanis Club. She formed Velvet Rhodes Productions in 2004.
“This is something I’ve said to a number of people that I never found out: why Glendale?” said Randy Slaughter, president of Glendale Kiwanis, whose career was in film distribution and theater ownership. “As soon as Velvet found out that I was in the film business, that was it. She can nicely suck you in. She had such a passion for art and entertainment.
“Believe me, you can’t forget her,” Slaughter added. “The first word I used was ‘colorful,’ but it wasn’t because of her hair. She’ll be missed. … She wanted to be something in the community. I’ve been in the industry a long time. I’ve seen egos. She didn’t have an ego. She wanted to be at the table and she wanted to be noticed, but she didn’t have an ego.”
With her film festival, Rhodes hoped to recreate the glamor of other storied festivals in the more humble Glendale and in a way that sought out smaller and independent filmmakers from throughout the world.
“Her goal was to try to make this one of the biggest events that Glendale had,” said Alex Parajon, a fellow Rotarian and treasurer for the film festival’s board. “We’re located obviously near Burbank and Hollywood, the capital for movie-making, and the passion she brought for movie-making, she wanted to inspire locals to make films and show them at the festival.”
Rhodes was known for her tireless advocacy of the festival and would take any chance she could to bend someone’s ear about getting their organization or nonprofit somehow involved in the event.
“It is certainly a legacy to be honored and it is certainly impressive what she was able to accomplish in a short time,” Glickman said. “She is probably going to be remembered most just for being a large presence and enthusiastic promotor of both our community and the artistic brilliance that really comes out of our community.”
Her later career credits include writing, directing and producing the 2008 short film “The Cell Phone” and also her 2015 documentary, “Vintage Glorious Glendale,” which paid tribute to the vintage heritage of her city. This enthusiasm translated to her film festival’s homage to its creators and sponsors. The film festival board is exploring titling its top award in honor of Rhodes.
“What she tried to do is incorporate the diversity, which means during the festival there would be certain programing — there would be some Armenian films, of course — and certain programs related to a topic of one of the nonprofits, like a film related to homelessness or hunger,” Parajon said.
Smith, who said her friend was full of life in spite of her cancer struggles — “She might have been dying inside, but you didn’t know it,” Smith said — last spoke with Rhodes days before her death.
“We had a good conversation,” Smith said. “She talked with me like there was nothing wrong and had that booming voice. Usually when people are nearing death, they have a rally at some point and they come back like they’re stronger for a little while. Hers was only for one day, but she was Velvet for that day. I told her that her board at the film festival was going forward and that we’re going to have a virtual festival in October. I said, ‘We’re going to keep it going, Velvet.’ She pulled herself forward, clasped her hands in front of her as if in prayer, and said, ‘That is the best news.’”