||R.I.P. Darrell Johnson, Inventor of the Rain Lamp
Joined: Feb 15, 2003
From: San Diego, Ca.
|Posted: 2004-10-19 9:12 pm  Permalink|
Darrell Johnson; love of show business shaped his life's work
By Jack Williams
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
October 17, 2004
From the time he met comedian Red Skelton on a movie set as a young man, Darrell H. Johnson's heart was in show business.
It just took an act of nature for him to find his niche.
After his Long Beach-based lighting and lamp manufacturing warehouse was ruined in the 1970s by a storm that triggered flooding and an oil spill, Mr. Johnson sailed his homemade 35-foot schooner to San Diego in search of a new start.
Within a few years he was acting in an occasional movie or television series and producing videos and television commercials as the owner of JE Productions in Kearny Mesa.
Mr. Johnson, a retired Navy reservist, died Sept. 11 at Balboa Naval Hospital. He was 77.
The cause of death was complications from cancer and kidney failure, his wife, Isabella "Scottie" Knowels Johnson, said.
Two years ago, Mr. Johnson began writing an autobiography that he completed before his death. Calling it "Never Planned," he produced several bound copies to distribute to family and friends. The book explored his youth in a foster-care home after his parents separated and told of his struggles for acceptance and gritty independence.
"He was a throwaway child who rose above everything that happened to him," said Cheri Atherton, a longtime friend. "He was an incredible person."
Mr. Johnson, who lived for more than 20 years on his boat at Harbor Island Marina, was born in Lawndale.
During World War II, he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine at age 17. After the war he returned to Southern California and met Skelton on a movie set in Palm Desert.
Later, while working for Ad Art, a Hollywood company that built and painted stage sets, he further cultivated his interest in the film industry.
"Clark Gable was my favorite because he would take me once a month to get his car serviced and buy me a malt while we waited," Mr. Johnson told San Diego Film & Video News. "I knew Howard Hughes, Stanley Kramer, Abbott & Costello and Louis B. Mayor. At the time, I didn't know what I had. Now, of course, I do."
With the outbreak of the Korean War, Mr. Johnson left Hollywood to serve in the Navy as a gunner's mate aboard the destroyer escort Albert T. Harris.
In 1957, he founded Johnson Enterprises in Los Angeles. Expanding on his expertise in building theater displays, he developed lighting fixtures and lamps of various sizes and applications.
His signature product was the rain lamp, a quirky, colorful concession to 1970s kitsch, featuring oil flowing down tiny wires.
Rising property values in Los Angeles next sent him to Long Beach, where his factory warehouse was destroyed in what his wife described as "a hurricane."
"There was no insurance to cover the damage," she said. "We were at a marina near oil fields. A culvert overflowed, and oil spilled into the warehouse."
Instead of resurrecting his business, Mr. Johnson chose to sell insurance after settling in San Diego. Then he formed JE Productions to live out his show-business dream.
"He had so many ideas; he was constantly creating," said casting director Tina Real, one of his clients. "When I first met him, I thought, 'No one can do all this stuff.' He was quite the entrepreneur."
His video productions ranged from the "A Way to Die" series, which includes looking at death from a coroner's perspective, to the practical "Losing Weight." He also produced a variety of public address announcements and drug-interdiction training films for the San Diego Coast Guard Air Station.
As a member of the Screen Actors Guild, Mr. Johnson relished appearing as an extra in movies and TV series. His TV credits included "Kojak," "Hunter," "Highway to Heaven," "Dallas" and "Xena Warrior Princess."
He appeared in such movies as "Top Dog" and "Tequila Sunrise."
Mr. Johnson served on the local boards of directors for SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists from 1980 to 1982 and helped organize acting seminars. He also was a union signatory.
In 1979, after 17 years in the Navy Reserve, Mr. Johnson was assigned to active reserve status in Coronado. He finished his Navy career eight years later as a career counselor after attending counseling school in New Orleans.
For 30 years he also was a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Survivors include his wife, Isabella "Scottie" Knowels Johnson; daughter Jan Crocker of Thousand Oaks; son Darrell Johnson III of North Carolina; stepdaughter, Paula Raney of Lake Chelan, Wash.; stepsons, Jim Knowels of Michigan, Larry Knowels of Aberdeen, Wash. and Ried Knowels of Minnesota; a sister, Helen Smith of Minnesota; a half sister, two half brothers; 10 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Services were Oct. 4 at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.
Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Freelance, Ph.D., Th.D., D.F.S
Joined: Mar 25, 2002
|Posted: 2004-10-20 06:07 am  Permalink|
Now THIS is the kind of obituary I like to see on TC! Someone the rest of the world would overlook... but we would appreciate. Thanks!
Joined: Dec 02, 2003
|Posted: 2004-10-20 08:13 am  Permalink|
Interesting post! As a kid, I was fascinated by those lamps. Thanks...
Grand Member (first year)
Joined: Jul 01, 2003
From: Orlando, FL
|Posted: 2004-10-24 11:18 pm  Permalink|
Loved those lamps.
Back in Clearwater (FL), there was a mall, very 50's/60's style, that had a HUGE one of those in the middle of the mall. (Hey Tweedtone, remember Sunshine Mall?)
I guess it wasn't a lamp per se, but had to be 20 feet tall, with plastic plants under it, and oil dripping down the guy wires. Got kinda nasty as the mall got more abandoned, that stuff collected a lot of dust.
At Christmas thay put colored lights under it to make it look like a tree.
I was fascinated by it.
Joined: Mar 24, 2002
From: 1st website dedicated to Tiki Gardens
|Posted: 2004-10-24 11:24 pm  Permalink|
I remember the Sunshine Mall! I got my first Hotwheels there. And that lamp was huge!
Joined: Jan 02, 2004
From: Port Angeles, Wa
|Posted: 2004-10-25 09:21 am  Permalink|
And with him dies the secret of how to fix those burnt out motors