May 27, 2018

Jerry Greenwood, 1938-2004, Lower Topanga Resident, Special Effects Artist


Lower Topanga resident Jerry Greenwood succumbed to a heart attack on January 25. According to friends and neighbors, the recent heart problems that led to Greenwood’s death were related to the stress of having to relocate from his home of 29 years.

Greenwood was born in Kingston, NY in 1938. He pursued undergraduate and graduate studies in theater at Wayne State University and the Detroit Institute of Technology in Detroit, and American University and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

While a student in Detroit in the early ’60s, Greenwood met and married Kathleen Carothers. They had one son, Kevin. Greenwood and Carothers divorced in 1969.

After an acting career, Greenwood turned to the technical aspects of the performing arts. He studied film at UCLA, where he became well-known for his cutting-edge special effects.

In 1975, he became the construction coordinator at new special effects studio Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), whose first film, Star Wars, established its reputation as the most advanced special effects studio in the world.


Jerry Greenwood, 1938-2004, Lower Topanga Resident, Special Effects Artist

That same year, he moved to Lower Topanga as a subtenant of 30-year-resident Catherine Groomer. An excellent woodworker, he built a beautiful apartment onto Groomer’s house.

According to Groomer, Greenwood played an alien bear creature in the bar scene of Star Wars, and his hand appeared firing a laser in another scene as an homage to his creative work.

In 1977, Greenwood became the supervisor of ILM, and worked on other big films like Battlestar Galactica.

In 1979, Greenwood left ILM to work independently on special effects. His film credits include Star Trek: the Motion Picture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien and Hook. His TV credits include Amazing Stories, Air Wolf, Knight Rider, The A-Team, and Max Headroom, which won three Emmy awards for visual effects.

Neighbor Beth Van de Wouw remembers Greenwood as friendly and helpful when she was first adjusting to the bohemian lifestyle of Topanga.

“Jerry helped me work on my house, showing me how to fix and build things myself,” she says. “He was also the first old person I met who taught me that old people can be young.”

Greenwood was reportedly anxious about having to relocate after State Parks bought Lower Topanga in 2001. He suffered his first heart attack in October 2003 and had to have triple bypass surgery in early November as a result of the heart attack.

Van de Wouw and her husband Jeff believe that his second, fatal heart attack was provoked by stress about his upcoming grievance hearing scheduled for February 4.

According to Jeff, Greenwood had supported other neighbors at their grievance hearings, but had been too sick to sort through all of the paperwork for his own hearing, and had been desperately trying to get it all together in his final weeks. Three days before his fatal heart attack, Greenwood had come over to see a copy of Jeff’s court transcripts because he wanted to prepare for the kinds of questions that he would be asked. It was the last time they spoke.

Greenwood died sometime after 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, and was found in his bed that afternoon by the Van de Wouws. According to Beth, Skippy the Wonder Dog, an abused dog that Greenwood had rescued, was lying next to his owner and wouldn’t leave. The Van de Wouws have now adopted Skippy.

Greenwood’s death is the third death that Lower Topanga residents attribute to the stress of dealing with State Parks and relocation. Other residents have suffered stress-related health problems like colitis, inflamed shingles and severe depression.

Kevin Greenwood, now a professor of Chinese Art History at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, laments that so many of his father’s great projects went unrealized.

“He wrote many screenplays that were never produced, and many short stories that were never published. He also designed an amusement park ride that was never built,” said Kevin, who will continue trying to get one of Greenwood’s best screenplays, about a circus in space, made.

According to Kevin, Greenwood was very generous, designing sets for a school play, and serving soup at a homeless kitchen on Thanksgiving. Kevin says that Greenwood was more a friend than a father, with a goofy sense of humor and profound knowledge of literature, history, and art.

Kevin was impressed by how many people’s lives his father had touched when he heard them speak at his memorial service at Escondido Beach in Malibu on January 31.