Ruthless People

© 1986 Tom Zimberoff

If I were to pan my lens slightly to the left, you would see dozens of people hurling themselves off the end of Santa Monica Pier in a mad dash — er, splash — into the surf, thirty feet below, trying to gather hundreds of thousands of dollars in loose bills floating to the surface from a car that had plunged off the end of said pier seconds earlier into Santa Monica Bay. A parade of cop cars in hot pursuit came to a screeching halt, right behind them. Then they got ready to do it all over again.



Tough Woman, Tough Portrait

Joan Baez / ©1988 Tom Zimberoff

I pretended to look through the camera’s viewfinder; a maneuver that is indistinguishable from looking through the camera’s viewfinder. I was framing my thoughts, not the picture. Buying time. Working the problem. Joan Baez fidgeted on the other side of the lens. She was not cooperative.

Since 1963, when the social activist and “Queen of Folk” invited an unknown “urban hillbilly” who called himself Bob Dylan onstage to perform with her at the Newport Folk Festival, Joan Baez recorded sixteen albums. It was now 1988, more than eight years since her last release; and, with a new album called Recently


Photographs Inspired by the Judgment of Paris

Robert Mondavi with three French Grand Crus and his own Cabernet Sauvignon / ©1980 Tom Zimberoff

A night on the town for my parents’ generation included a bottle of Lancers with dinner, or maybe a Mateus. These were Portuguese rosé wines, faintly fizzy, in funny-looking bottles that didn’t look much like wine bottles at all. Quality wise they were less olé than oy vey. But they, or maybe a wrapped-in-straw Italian chianti standing on one’s table, were monuments to worldliness. They were all the rage when American middle-class culture was just tipsy-toeing away from oenophobia in the 1960s. By the 70s, Sammy Davis, Jr. was hawking “Man, oh Manischewitz!” kosher wine on TV for a secular…


Photographing the Cowboy Crooner

©1982 Tom Zimberoff

The man about to shoot a hole in his hat is Orvon Grover Autry — Gene Autry, the first certifiably famous “singing cowboy.” His voice carried across the nation from Melody Ranch, his radio show — on the air from 1940 to 1956. And he sat tall in the saddle on the silver screen throughout my childhood. Autry was born in — whoopi-ty-oh-ky-yay — Tioga, Texas in 1907, and became the fourth biggest box office attraction in America just a few decades later, hard on the heels of Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, and Spencer Tracy, in that order. …


Portraits in the Souk

Tea Shop Proprietors, Cairo / ©1980 Tom Zimberoff

Part One

It was a volatile time to arrive in this neck of North Africa — anywhere near the Middle East. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was gunned down while watching a military parade six days before my arrival in Cairo, right there at the airport. I could see where the atrocity occurred. The authorities hadn’t yet cleaned up the carnage. The next day, I went off to cover Operation Bright Star.

“Hey, Zimbo!”

I looked left. I looked right. I swung around and looked behind me. I saw no one trying to catch my attention. …


A Day in the Life

©1976 Tom Zimberoff

It was — and still is — a veddy, veddy English cah. Even a modern Morgan looks like it just burbled out from under wraps, garaged since 1936: hence the long hood with engine-flanking louvers, swooping external fenders, ragtop open cockpit for two, an actual grille, and bug-eye headlights. With its peculiar chassis made of ash wood, you might imagine the ride to be, well, a bit stiff upper lip.

George Martin drove a Morgan. His passenger one dreary January day, in 1967, traveling not far from Liverpool through Blackburn, Lancashire, was John Lennon. They were on their way to…


A Fateful Portrait Shoot

©1988 Tom Zimberoff / All Rights Reserved / May Not Be Reproduced or Copied

My answer to a casual question triggered the beginning of the end of my career shooting pictures.

Jeff Cohen had one of the most enviable business cards in the world: Photo Editor, Playboy. I’m sure he never paid for drinks. Jeff assigned me to photograph Apple CEO John Sculley, in 1987, for the September “Interview” section of the magazine. (Clearly, that was the only reason readers were expected to buy it.) Two years since Steve Jobs left the company, Sculley’s star shone brightly in the C-suite firmament. This was my first time to meet him.


The Louche Life

©1976 Tom Zimberoff

Apocryphal stories abound about Tom Waits, though it’s my understanding he likes it that way. He seems to encourage biographical ambiguity; not to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes but because a wild and wooly backstory was part of his schtick. The schtick was art. Performance was, and is, his life: “I was born at a very young age in the backseat of a Yellow Cab in the Murphy Hospital parking lot in Whittier, California.” The first thing he did was, “. . . pay, like, a buck eighty-five on the meter [and go find a job].”

Waits’s career spans…


A Rock ’n’ Roll Legend at a Pivotal Moment

Leon Russell at LAX / ©1969 Tom Zimberoff

When I entered the University of Southern California as a freshman music major, in 1969, my ambition was to become the first-chair clarinetist in a preeminent symphony orchestra. I’d won an audition and the prize of a scholarship. I found out the same week Armstrong & Aldrin landed on the Moon. I was over the moon. But the scholarship came with a quid pro quo: conscription into the USC Trojan Marching Band.

The Trojans were hands down the best-sounding college band in the United States — in the world, with its unparalleled musicianship stemming from the faculty’s ability to recruit…


My First Portrait

©1972 Tom Zimberoff

Let me tell you about the first time I saw Groucho Marx — in person, that is, not in the movies. He happens to be the subject of my very first portrait, but my story begins before I took up photography.

Protect your bagels; put lox on them. It sounds like something Groucho might say. But it was just a clever admonition from the locals to visit Nate ’n’ Al’s Delicatessen in Beverly Hills. I was there eating brunch one weekend morning with several buddies before heading over to the Fairfax Theater in West Hollywood for a Marx Brothers double…

Tom Zimberoff


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