The guy who modeled for Lee Crabb, the sneaky malcontent in Dinotopia, is an old friend named David Starrett. He is pretty craggy, but he’s a lot more handsome than the character I turned him into. He is the son of the famous western character actor Charles Starrett.
Dave Starrett has taught art for many years at various art schools in Los Angeles. Jeanette and I knew him mainly as a sketching and an art museum buddy.
He would pick us up in his old VW camper van, which he called the Foxmobile. We’d go over to the Huntington Library to look at paintings. He pulled all these mirrors and flashlights and viewscopes out of his pocket until the guards put us on a close watch.
While standing in front of a painting, he would make up stories about the artist: “Gainsborough lost an arm in a sword fight and had to switch to painting with his other arm…Renoir did this entire painting while standing in six inches of coconut milk in a bathtub.” Museum goers would tag along to hear the juicy tidbits.
That was before the days of those gawdawful preprogrammed audio guides, which turn museum-goers into mindless zombies.
Then we’d go out painting in the gardens out back. Sometimes a flock of foreign tourists would come by and ask him, “Are you an artist?”
“No, I’m a plumber,” he’d snap back. “Just finished putting in a commode.”