Obituary: Jack (John) H. Willoughby

April 3, 1917-June 8, 2018

Jack (John) H. Willoughby
Jack (John) H. Willoughby

Jack, a 70-year La Cañada Flintridge resident, passed away peacefully last summer after living his 101 years to the fullest.
Jack grew up in Plymouth, North Carolina, and Williamsburg, Virginia, near areas occupied by Willoughbys since the 1600s. At an early age, Jack’s gifts as a photographer, athlete and charming extrovert became evident.
After attending William & Mary College, where he met his future wife, Marx Figley, he served in the Army and then graduated from the New York Institute of Photography. Having this prestigious degree, he and Marx rode across the U.S. in a Model T’s rumble seat to get to where the work was — Hollywood!
Jack’s career in motion pictures and television spanned over 60 years. He worked with every major and independent studio as a cinematographer, director of photography, producer and/or director. He made more than 80 features films, such as “Oklahoma,” “Battle of the Bulge,” “Save the Tiger” and “Rocky.” He also worked extensively on TV series, specials, documentaries and commercials. He won an Emmy for his work on the “Hidden City.”
Jack’s always-entertaining stories of Hollywood stars, directors and behind-the-scenes drama include Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Oscar Hammerstein II, Mae West, Robert Redford, Cheech & Chong, and Grace Kelly, to name a few.
His career path was filled with adventure that allowed him to travel the world. At times his family accompanied him, and twice they lived in Europe. Jack shot film from helicopters that flew under bridges and over monuments. Using scuba gear, he made a documentary searching for the lost arms of Venus de Milo and, for TV, the show “Assignment: Underwater.” He endured crouching in holes in the ground, being strapped to the hoods of racing cars and balancing on a tank’s cannon in order to get the best “shot.”
Jack founded and was president of New Era Productions, which produced six years of Coors beer commercials; a TV program, “You and Your Big Ideas!”; and many more. He held many patents for inventions, including the optical anamorphic lens. He and Marx wrote and produced documentaries such as “American Masterpieces” and “Central City.”
Jack had enormous pride in his family. In his last few decades, stories about his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren replaced his tales of Hollywood. He bragged that they were all “geniuses.” Even in his 101st year, Jack enthusiastically supported them, showing up at every athletic event, art show, drama production and birthday party. Known as “Dara,” he was greatly loved and continues to be missed. Luckily, he leaves behind some terrific home movies, a 50-page memoir and an interview for the archives of the International Cinematographers Guild.
Jack’s wife of 73 years, Marx, passed away in 2017. He is survived by daughters Robin Williams and Jo Butcher; grandchildren Blake Williams, Gavin Williams (Lori), Brandon Butcher (Sarah), Bryce Altounian (Nick); and great-grandchildren Keegan and Quinn Williams and Jack and Cooper Butcher. A family gravesite funeral was held at Forest Lawn on June 20, 2018, and was followed by a reception.

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