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Ventura's Highway Brought Him Bright Lights, Big Cityscapes

AS A 1960s TV announcer told us every week, “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City.” Pebble Beach resident Paul Ventura, a Gotham-born artist whose luminescent cityscapes light up Carmel’s New Masters Gallery, has a tale worthy of the raconteurs.

As he was evolving as a painter, Ventura enjoyed a glittering Hollywood career,

casting soon-to-be-famous superstars for films, TV shows and thousands of commercials. George Clooney regularly auditioned for voice-over work. Cameron Diaz was a successful model before Ventura told her if she went into acting, she'd be a star.

“On an average day of casting, before they hit it big, I’d bring in Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Bob Thornton, Bryan Cranston, Reese Witherspoon, Elizabeth Moss, Kathy Bates, David Spade or Paul Rudd. Nicole Kidman did one of her first auditions for me,” reminisced Ventura, who spent time at Paramount and 20th Century Fox.

He also worked with a list of legendary producer-directors that included Sydney Pollock, Roger Corman and Alan Arkin, along with music stars like Levon Helm, Papa John Creech, Ernie Watts, Willie Dixon and Buddy Collette. His Hollywood career also included a half-dozen big parts as an actor in TV shows like “M*A*S*H.”

All of which enabled him to buy the Pebble Beach home where he lives today — originally

as a gift for his parents (both deceased), whom he credits for encouraging and nurturing

his creativity from the earliest years of his life. Choosing rockets over baseball Ventura’s dad — also named Paul —

played centerfield at Brooklyn Polytechnical College, earning an offer from the Brooklyn Dodgers, after scouts watched him blast a game-winning three-run homer out of Ebbets Field. “I saw the letter from the Dodgers’ general manager, Branch Rickey, offering a contract and inviting my dad to Vero Beach, Fla., for spring training,” Ventura said. “But the Dodgers already had this guy named Duke Snider — an eight-time National League All-Star — in centerfield, and Dad had some back issues, so he told them he was going to become an engineer.

” His mother, Cecilia, was a New York artist who saw creative potential in her toddler son, using what Ventura called “reverse psychology” to lure him into her studio one weekend.

“I was 3 years old. She was headed out of the house to go shopping. And she said, ‘Stay out of the den — your father is working — and, whatever you do, don’t go into my studio,’” Ventura said, sharing family lore.

“But she left her door open, and when I peeked inside, I saw a blank canvas on her easel, and her paints and brushes all set up for me.”

The boy wandered in, dabbed a brush into the oils, and painted Humpty Dumpty on a brick wall. “It was actually pretty detailed — I even did the bricks and mortar,” he said. “Mom came home and saw what I did, loved it, and I’ve been painting ever since.

“My life was interesting, because my mom would teach me about music and art, my dad would teach me sports and math, and I had a very balanced childhood from all of those disciplines,” said Ventura, whose father, a rocket engineer, helped design the ships that took American astronauts to the moon. Paul Sr. later helped engineer the booster rockets on each side

of the space shuttle. “Throughout his career, they’d bring my father in to solve major problems in the rocket industry,” he said. When their son was 8, the Venturas left New York City for Sacramento — a hub

for aerospace design at the time — creating a couple of notable memories.

“We lived in a really nice area, with orange blossoms everywhere. In the spring, the fragrance was overpowering,” he remembered. “I also noticed that the sunsets in Sacramento often were green. Many years later, I realized that it was because of all of the rocket tests that were

going on there.”

At 17, Ventura enrolled at Santa Clara University, where he majored in political science, but after watching two fellow students audition ineptly for a campus play, he stepped forward.

The accidental thespian

“I had never tried acting in my life, but felt like I could do better,” said Ventura, who was cast as Voltaire in a production of “Marat/Sade,” about the Marquis de Sade.

During his four-year stay at the university, he performed in almost 40 plays and was named Outstanding Graduate in the Drama Department, unusual, considering he was never officially a drama student.

After earning his Master of Fine Arts degree from UC Davis, he joined California Actors Theater in Los Gatos, where he worked with future stars Kurtwood Smith, David Ogden Stiers and Tyne Daly. Next, he was hired as artistic director of a theater in Soquel.

“Just as I was packing up my desk to leave that job, I got a call from Pat Kehoe, an assistant director who needed extras and big players for a major movie that was going to be shot in the Santa Cruz area,” he said. “I didn’t have a car, so I took the bus to the Holiday Inn to meet with him.”

After an interview that took just minutes, Kehoe hired Ventura to help cast the film and manage a roster of 2,000 extras.

Connections made through that experience took Ventura to Los Angeles, where he was quickly hired to help cast a movie at New World Pictures for Roger Corman. That job led to an offer to work at Paramount Studios.

"The office they gave me there as an assistant casting director — all mahogany — had previously been used by John Schlessinger, the director of ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘Marathon Man,’ and Dan Curtis, producer of ‘Burnt Offerings’ and ‘The Winds of War.’ It would’ve made

Michael Corleone envious,” said Ventura, whose Hollywood heyday extended from1981 to 2010. Throughout the years, he never stopped creating artwork, which morphed from the Andrew Wyeth-style realism he did in his earlier days, to classic pop that was compared

to the work of Wayne Thiebaud, to whimsical Americana.

That’s not to mention the spectacular and enormous cityscapes (New York, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas) for which he is best known. All are intricately detailed, mixing iconic landmarks from each city with colorful embellishments from Ventura’s imagination.

“I’ll work from photographs to recreate

the iconic buildings, and then just kind

of become a city planner,” he said. “My painting of Tokyo took five months... New York and Paris took years.”

Images of his art, and additional information, can be found online at Some of Ventura’s paintings — including those of New York and Paris — can be viewed at New Masters Gallery Carmel (Ocean and Seventh).

Dennis Taylor is a freelance writer in Monterey County. Contact him at

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