Joe McBride, a great friend of Wellesnet sends along the sad news that the beloved wife of cinematographer Gary Graver has passed away. Joe was good friends with both Gary and Jillian, and introduced me to Jillian at the Tiburon Film Festival a few years ago, where we had a marvelous time together talking about Orson Welles. Unfortunately, I only got to meet Jillian a few times after that, but she was the kind of warm and friendly person you immediately took a liking to.
Here is Joe's tribute to Jillian:
I'm sorry to report that Jillian Kesner-Graver, cinematographer Gary Graver's widow, died unexpectedly on Dec. 5, 2007.
She had been living in Rancho Mirage, California, and was under treatment for what evidently was leukemia. She was taken Tuesday to the ER, where she died on Wednesday of a staph infection at the age of 57. It was very hard for Jillian to deal with the death of her beloved Gary in November 2006, but she continued to be active in running his equipment and film operations, traveling back and forth between the desert and Los Angeles, and helping with the planned OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND postproduction project.
I told Jillian recently that she was a key member of VISTOW ("Volunteers in Service to Orson Welles"), the informal organization of people who have devoted much of their lives to keeping his work alive. She was delighted to have that designation. She was invited to a film festival in South Korea this summer and did a marvelous job of speaking about Gary and his legacy. She wrote me: "It was such an honor to be able to talk about him to 200 enthusiastic film buffs. I remember a conversation we had at our house a few years ago and you encouraged me by saying, 'You know more than you think you do!' I'll never forget that and I got the chance to share my stories this summer when I was invited to Seoul and Pusan (they have the biggest festival in Asia) to honor Gary. It was a phenomenal experience and it was the first time I was speaking without Gary there by my side. I wasn't about to turn down the opportunity to pay tribute to him and it could not have gone better!"
Jillian was a kind, friendly, loyal, and lovely person and an astute businesswoman who worked closely with Gary on many of his films as an associate producer and production coordinator and in paying tribute to Welles with him around the world. She loved traveling with Gary and arranging with festivals and museums to show their program of his work with Welles. In her earlier career, she had appeared as an actress in numerous low-budget films, notably starring in Cirio H. Santiago's FIRECRACKER, a 1981 kickboxing movie made in the Philippines and released by Roger Corman. She met Gary when he photographed THE STUDENT BODY (1976), in which she appeared — she was proud of the fact that this is the film the two men are watching at the Texas drive-in theater in Errol Morris's THE THIN BLUE LINE (as actually happened). On TV she had appeared in such series as HAPPY DAYS, MORK AND MINDY, and THE ROCKFORD FILES. She was also in Gary's film TRICK OR TREATS and Oja Kodar's JADED.
Jillian is survived by her mother, Patricia; her two sisters, Connie and Cindy; two stepsons, Sean Graver and Chris Graver; and many nieces and nephews.
A memorial to Jillian is being discussed for the Egyptian Theater/American Cinematheque in Hollywood in January. Jillian and Sean Graver organized the tribute to Gary there just this year. She gave a moving speech about him and her devotion to his memory. As she wrote me on November 6, "It is still the first year since Gary's passing, so I am finding my way in the world without him (he is with me and helping me all the time) but his level of talent and passion was so incredible it was hard to keep up with him, now I am grasping for answers! Now I know what Gary meant in his memorial speech for Orson . . . 'I want to ask him so many things,' that's how I feel about Gary."
Now we miss her too and wish we could ask her so many things.