Larry Moyer 1924 – 2016
Larry Moyer—Playboy photographer, WWII vet, union organizer, dance teacher, water-dweller, LSD champion, counter-culture icon, world traveler, award-winning director and Shel Silverstein friend—made his final exit last week at ninety-two. Born in Brooklyn during Prohibition, Larry turned on, tuned in, and dropped out, finding a world that many searched for, but few ever found.
In 1939, at the age of sixteen, on the very first day of his very first job, Larry realized he was entirely unfit for work and utterly unemployable. “The idea of waking up to an alarm clock and spending the rest of your life working was totally unacceptable,” he said. Until then, young Larry had cycled through career options that included Cowboy: “Go out, ride a horse and kill the bad guys,” and Gangster: “the gangsters were really running everything with the big cars and big broads.” But the cowboy dream ended when he realized how much work it entailed and the gangster idea lost appeal when he saw one bleed out on the New York streets. It wasn’t until he watched the movie La Bohème, that featured “a bunch of guys hanging out doing nothing, and naked broads dancing and playing music,” that Larry asked, “Who are these guys?” and was told they were artists. “Artists?” In that moment Larry Moyer decided that’s what he wanted to be.
Being an artist was the best way do nothing, hang out, and give the illusion that things are happening,” he said. “That’s why very few people just hang out and don’t do anything—its hard work! You know going to work that’s easy stuff, but not doing anything—that’s a challenge. (Larry somehow managed to accomplish a lot of somethings while working hard at doing nothing.)
Three months after Pearl Harbor, during World War II, the aspiring artist was sent to Hawaii where he pulled the dead out of ships.
Pulling those dead bodies out taught me all about war. To get some love, I’d spend time with hookers. The hookers in Honolulu had a tough time. They’d get hassled by cops. They couldn’t vote. They had no civil rights. They were getting $3 for three minutes of service, and they wanted to get $4 for that three-minute service, so I helped them get organized; my first union organizing job was to help the working girls in Honolulu.
He later met author Shel Silverstein in Moscow’s Red Square and the two began an enormous friendship that would last until Shel died in 1999. On assignment for Playboy, Shel and Larry traveled the world together for thirteen years, from 1957 until 1970. Shel drew cartoons while Larry made photographs.
Early in their travels, Larry became one of the first American newspaper photographers allowed into China. He traveled the Trans-Siberian Railroad and ended up talking poetry with Mao Tse-tung. When he returned stateside, Larry directed The Moving Finger, his black and white indy film. Magazine Shock Cinema says The Moving Finger combines “tacky beat performance art with all-too-authentic weirdos…in a finger-snapping dose of nostalgia on a shoestring budget.” The flick nabbed Larry the 1963 Best Director award at the San Francisco Film Festival.
A few years later, in 1967, Larry and Shel headed from New York to the Bay Area, landing in San Francisco during The Summer of Love. The duo immersed themselves in dope, sex and rock’n roll…for purely professional reasons, naturally.
The Summer of Love was a kind of a Revolution. Love seemed to always make the big difference. Anytime I’m lucky enough to feel any kind of love, anything, then everything becomes more beautiful. Anything you feel any love for at all—immediately is transformed. Don’t cost a penny.
And anytime I’ve been down, really down, at the bottom of the ocean and looking over the abyss, then a miracle shows up. It always does. Of course if you do some drugs it’s a lot easier for the miracle to show up. Hey, it’s the LSD that helped me believe in miracles. If you don’t believe in them they won’t happen. It’s ineffable – cannot be described in words. If you want to talk to god—and I’m an atheist—but I talk to god when I am on LSD.
When the Summer of Love became the Winter of Discontent, Larry crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, landing on the Sausalito Waterfront. For a man who wanted to do absolutely nothing, Larry seemed to be at the core of everything. The artist became a 49-year resident of the Sausalito Waterfront and an instrumental figure in the houseboat wars. The Brooklyn-born aspiring cowboy never lost his accent, but transformed himself into a renowned California bohemian, beatnik and hippy. Larry would say the greatest thing of all is when Life becomes a movie, one where “we could play any part we wanted.” To Larry, life was a “terrrrriffffiicccc” movie…and “none of this Life could have happened without my friends, the stars of the movie…they gotta take the credit or the blame!” Larry would continue acting, with roles in several Robert Downey Sr. films including Greasers Palace and Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight, while being the main character in many of our lives on the Waterfront.
I don’t know how I got here,” he said not long ago. “Pretty spooky when you start figuring out how you got here in the first place. I had to outswim like, a million sperm, but I don’t even remember working that hard to outswim them all. And it’s been so fantastic—I couldn’t have imagined a better place than this world. So whatever put me here in the first place, it’s gonna take care of me on whatever the next adventure is, I feel good about that. I want to be astonished, like I was when I was born. So whoever put me here, I say astonish me.
Those who knew him are sure that the astonished Larry and his pal Shel are on their next journey in search of good food and bad women.
On board the “Evil Eye,” docked in Sausalito’s houseboat community, Larry Moyer leaves behind his wife, artist Dianne, and a revolving door for their beloved cats. Captain Moyer was 92 years old.
See ya later pal, adios muchachos—too·dle-oo——Larry
Blog Notes: The quotes and these photos are from interviews conducted during the filming of the documentary: (working title) LOVE IS. Produced by Blaze Nash and directed by Michael Nash, the feature length film—a retrospective of Larry’s amazing journey—will be released in 2017.
Enjoy these clips from LOVE IS, with special thanks to the filmmakers Blaze and Michael Nash. The first clip is a rough-cut trailer for LOVE IS; the other two clips are raw footage: the uncut footage that is currently being trimmed, shaped and ordered to become LOVE IS.
THE VIDEOS BELOW ARE NO LONGER AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING ON VIMEO – WE HOPE TO HAVE THESE GEMS RESTORED AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE. Our apologies.
Love Is / Larry Moyer from Michael Nash on Vimeo
Love Is – Larry Moyer Film /epk3 from Michael Nash on Vimeo
Love Is – Larry Moyer (epk4) from Michael Nash on Vimeo