One of the curious discoveries in researching the life of Milford Zornes is the long list of people who were kind enough to chauffeur him on his painting trips. I was going to say 'befriended him' but after talking to these folks it's more the case that Milford befriended them. To be fair, he was a very engaging and outgoing fellow and by all accounts made friends very easily. That was certainly the case with us.
By the time we met him he was bona fide celebrity in the art world and yet very open and warm. Dare I compare him to some movie stars I've met who were manic about their privacy? That's probably not fair either, since Milford's fame didn't result in a scrum of screaming fans following him down the street. Nevertheless, he was easy to talk to and made you feel like you were not imposing. And as filmmakers we were imposing. It's the nature of our business that we have to ask for a host of accommodation to make nice pictures.
We know he loved to paint on location--and loved to travel. As a young man studying under Millard Sheets at Pomona College, he and his friend, Tom Craig, would travel all around Southern California to paint their scenes—everyplace from Laguna Beach to the dessert. And just think about traveling the 60 or so miles from Pomona to Laguna in the 1930s: before freeways! I get the impression that Milford always like to have a travel companion, even though he also said he was a bit of a loner. So, sometime in the late 1960s or 1970s when his Macular Degeneration may have started, a driver might have become more than just a companion but a necessity.
His daughter, Maria, told us that as a teen when her father said something like, "let's take a trip," she knew to pack an overnight bag because she never knew where they were headed. Sometimes they'd just drive in a direction until Milford saw some scenery he would like to paint.
Being a friendly sort, Milford had no lack of candidates to ask to drive but most of the folks we've met who did so were fellow artists or somehow connected to the art world. Of course they were all friends and happy to help but I think also thrilled to be invited. Some would paint with him nearby just sharing the setting. Others might ask a question or occasionally ask for an opinion of their work which Milford seemed ready to give. But a number of these volunteer chauffeurs were just willing to spend time on the road with him, sharing conversation and talking about life with Milford Zornes. You've heard the saying, You can tell a lot about a man by the friends he keeps. Well, it says a lot about Milford—and his all his drivers—that he never seemed to be without a friend to take him to his next painting location.