Ric Ellingson was the official set photographer on the last three, 3D videos made with Michael Jackson in June of 2009. The songs and videos represented were Thriller, Smooth Criminal, and Earthsong. Ric spent two weeks at Culver City Studios, just a week before Michael’s death. Ric also acted as one of the backstage video production people.
Derek with Michael in 1984 | Image: Sam Emerson.
Remember: Emerson on The King of Pop
Growing up in Beverly Hills, California, Derek Emerson lead a charmed life.
“It was nice to always have an all-access pass,” he laughs.
His father, photographer Sam Emerson, worked the rock music scene where Derek met the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, Billy Idol and Elton John. The list, he says, “Goes on and on.”
But there was that one performer, one icon, that Derek fondly recalls. On the fifth anniversary of his untimely death, Derek reminisces about Michael Jackson.
Derek’s dad was Michael’s personal still photographer from 1980 to 1993. He shot the album cover for Bad, worked on the ‘Beat It,’ ‘Billie Jean,’ ‘Bad’ and ‘Smooth Criminal’ videos and traveled the world – three times over – with the King of Pop. “Any photos released from ’82 to ’94 were mostly my dad’s,” Derek explains.
At the age of 12, Derek met a then 24 year-old Michael for the first time. It was in Michael’s house on Havenhurst – before Neverland Ranch – that Sam was shooting photos of Michael’s gloves, nearly a dozen of them. “I was playing Frogger and, all of a sudden, I felt this weight on my back,” Derek recounts. “It was Michael’s pet snake, Muscles. He set it there and just started laughing. He was a little prankster.” That was the same day he says Michael took him and Quincy Jones’ daughter for a golf cart ride.
When Sam was working, Derek was always welcome to hang out. He’d play video games and Michael would join him on breaks. “I remember going to Neverland, to the candy shop, riding rides and talking about my cycling or school,” Derek says. “There was a train around the property and big forts with water cannons. I’d be playing and he’d come play, too. It really was like hanging out with another kid who just didn’t want to grow up.”
Derek recalls Michael’s sense of humor. “I remember one time in New Orleans, probably in ’84, where we were in the hotel after a show. Sugar Ray Leonard and Stevie Wonder were hanging out and we wanted to pick up something to eat. Stevie said, ‘Give me the keys and I’ll drive.’ Michael thought that was so funny.”
"It was always Michael’s running joke, that he didn’t want to be shorter than me in the photo," says 6’5" Derek. "So I was squatting down in this picture." | Image: Sam Emerson
Thanks to his dad’s job and Michael’s tours, Derek saw the world. As Sam’s assistant at 18, Derek would set up lights and sort slides. “My dad was shooting forty rolls of film over a two-hour period,” he recalls. “That was in Tel Aviv, Turkey – and Europe twice, for months at a time. I went to something like 40 plus shows one summer! And I was on the Victory tour with the (Jackson) brothers in 1984.”
“It was a good time to be around, that ten-year time period from ’82 to ’92, when he was the hottest thing in the world,” Derek says. “You’re talking about selling out Wembley Stadium, 70,000 people in seven shows back to back?” Derek chuckles reminiscing about those days. “Not everyone can say that, I guess.”
When news came, just five years ago today, that the King of Pop had died, Derek was water skiing in South Carolina. “I called my dad and just couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I can still see it in my dad’s eyes when you talk about it. That was someone he spent a very long part of his life with. It still chokes him up.”
Derek says it’s still hard to believe Michael is gone. “He was the biggest performer in the world and a super nice guy who treated me well – and respected me enough to know who I was. He always asked about what I had going on in my life. He always remembered me.”
Here’s to remembering Michael…
Chef Derek Emerson and wife Jennifer are owners of Walker’s Drive-In and Local 463.
The Story Behind the Photo: The Jackson 5 on the Beach, 1969
Behind every photo, there is a story …
Today, acclaimed photojournalist, director and screenwriter Lawrence Schiller shares how this famous 1969 Jackson 5 photo came to be. Read on to see how it all started with a little help from one of their friends, Diana Ross.
In Lawrence’s own words:
"The New York Times had given me an assignment to photograph Diana Ross and Motown Records, and one day when I was shooting Diana in Central Park, she said to me, “You should also photograph a new music group that I discovered.”
And I said, “I didn’t know you were discovering music groups.”
Diana replied, “Somebody discovered me and I’m doing the same . . the groups name is the Jackson 5.”
The Jackson 5 didn’t mean anything to me….. Jackson 5, people, 5 kids, whatever.
So I asked the President, and owner of Motown, Barry Gordon Sr. to arrange for me to photograph them. Diana had also mentioned the group was coming to California, where I lived, to make an album. Back home, one afternoon I got a phone call from one of Barry Gordy’s sisters who said, “the Jackson 5 are in Los Angeles, where would you like to photograph them?”
“Well, have they been to California before?” I asked.
“Nope, they have never even seen the Pacific Ocean …” She replied.
What ran through my mind was that I should be there as they had the experience of seeing the Pacific for the first time.
So she arranged for them to meet me near the Santa Monica pier … and next thing I know a group of kids drive up in a big Mercedes. They had a chauffeur and everything they might want. But what hit me the most…. sitting in the back seat of the Limo, one of the boys looked so small. And that was when I was introduced to Michael, by one of his brothers.
I suggested we move down to Malibu, where there would be more privacy. … I didn’t have really anything in mind of that I wanted to do. When we arrived near the Malibu Pier, they just all jumped out of their car and headed toward the water. But, Michael ran to the trunk their car and pulled out a ghetto blaster… .
“Are we going to listen to some of your music?” I asked.
Michael replied before I even finished my sentence. “We always carry our music with us …”
When I looked back toward the rest of the brothers they were already down on the beach looking at the water. That was when I started taking some pictures of them with their feet in in the water. Later I would later discover they had actually never seen an ocean before. Before I knew it Michael had the Ghetto Blaster going as his brothers began to dance to their own music on the beach. It’s sad I don’t remember what song it was. .
They were still shy in a way, but the minute the music played they came alive, Michael Jackson was like a balloon filled with helium. He just took off to the sky. He became an entirely different person … you could just see the beginning of his insecurity. But when the music came, he just exploded.
There is no question that the Michael’s brothers were already playing second fiddle to him, and they had to accept the fact that his innocence and talent was what was driving the group. But still Michael, as I remember him that day, was just an innocent little kid dancing to the beat of his own music.
For the full interview, click sound file below!
You can learn a lot about someone by just looking at what makes them smile and what makes their eyes sparkle…..Michael got his smile and that sparkle by making others happy, making others smile. My idol was one of those people that lived to make the world a better place and he did.