Lan Brookes Ritz(1932 - 2013)

Lan Brookes Ritz

Los Angeles, CA

Lan Brookes Ritz passed away January 28, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. She was born Helen Harris on March 15, 1932 in St. George, Utah to Grant and Eleen Higbee Harris. Lan was raised in St. George with her sisters and a large extended family. She displayed artistic talent at a young age, often designing her own clothes, hats and accessories. From childhood she possessed a strong sense of style and flair.

After graduating from Dixie High School, Lan worked at Zion National Park for a summer, then married Larry Spargo (later divorced). Lan and her son, Thomas, moved to Southern California in the 1950s where she became involved with the fashion industry. Lan attended the Woodbury Institute of Fashion Design in Burbank, California and won an award for the most creative hat design. She worked at May Company for several years in sales and marketing. Lan was known for her unerring eye for color and line. She could put together a clothing ensemble or a home decorating scheme that would command attention.

Lan married Lyle Ritz in 1960 in Hollywood, California. Lyle worked as a highly regarded studio bassist and appeared on many popular band recordings. Lan and Lyle renovated a classic 1920s home in the Hollywood Hills where she lived for the rest of her life. The home was a beautiful example of Lan's fascination with art, textiles and design. Although she collected and restored many lovely antiques, she also knew a bargain when she saw one. She was an inveterate shopper and a tough negotiator. Lyle and Lan divorced in 1968.

In the 1970s Lan began to work in the film industry as a costume designer and consultant. Among her early credits was the 1971 film "When The Line Goes Through" starring Martin Sheen. Lan also worked on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. She formed Brown Bird Productions in order to pursue her own film projects, most notably the award-winning "Annie Mae: Brave Hearted Woman," which Lan wrote, produced and directed in 1979. This film was the crowning achievement of Lan's artistic life, as it told the story of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash, a Native American activist in the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising who was killed under strange circumstances.

Annie Mae was found in a lonely ravine in 1976 with a bullet in her head. Lan pursued her story with determination and insight. The Washington Post called the film, "the strongest statement ever made on film about the way this country deals with the peoples we displaced, the Indians." Film actor Marlon Brando commented, "With this film, Lan Ritz has taken these grisly details and has created a sense of beauty of the human spirit that touches all our lives." Lan's film was screened at film festivals all over the world, including San Francisco, Melbourne, London, Heidelberg, just to name a few. Annie Mae's death was finally investigated several decades later, using some of the information from Lan's early work, and the killers were brought to justice.

Lan continued to work in the entertainment industry for many years. She was a dramatic, sometimes eccentric, but always intense woman with an artist's temperament. Her nearly floor length hair was one of her enduring trademarks, along with her ability to tell a story.

Lan is remembered by her family and friends for her fiercely independent spirit and her ability to take a stand. Lan was preceded in death by her parents, by her sister, Goldie Maree, who died in infancy, and by her sister, Rosalee. She is survived by her son, Thomas Ritz, granddaughters Lauren Ritz and Jenna Ritz, sisters Jeannine (Stan) Holt, Shirlee (Scott) Graff, and many other family members and friends. Private services will be held at a later date.

Condolences or memories of Lan may be sent to the family at lmhchurch@gmail.com.


Published in The Spectrum & Daily News from Mar. 5 to Mar. 7, 2013