The following is taken from a cassette recording taped by Abby Minot, Winona’s first photo stylist, that she made for Nigel for a book project he was developing with photographer John Marriott. It was also used for pre-production research during the making of The Real Winona Ryder for Channel 4…
‘It must have been about 1984. I was visiting my cousin in Los Angeles, her name is Julia Peppard, I was having lunch with Julia and we were joined by a friend of hers whose name is Victoria Daly, and Victoria said, “Oh! I just picked up my pictures of my god daughter, isn’t she cute, she wants to be an actress, she just loves to dress up, here is a picture of her and her sister dressing up.” So there was a bunch of snapshots of Winona (Noni for short) and Sunyata Horowitz. Sunyata is her sister who I guess maybe two or three years older, and at the time that those pictures were taken, Noni was probably thirteen, Sunyata about fifteen. Anyway, you could see that they were both clearly photogenic, and I at the time, was just starting my styling business.
‘I actually had started being a stylist around the later part of 1982 and I had done a lot of test shots with John Marriott. He was basically starting his photography business shortly before that. I met John in June of 1983 and when I did he had just put up the walls of his studio. Anyway, I knew John and I were always looking for something to take pictures of, to build our work, and these two girls looked really charming so we said, great. They lived up near us. I was living in I guess Oakland or Berkley at the time, and they were from Petaluma, so I got their name and number, and ended up calling them when I got home to find out if they were serious about having their pictures taken, so it turned out that they were.
‘I had it on my list of things to do before we actually connected with the Horowitzes about setting up a time to take photos of the girls. It took a couple of months before we connected. And I talked to Noni’s mother, Cindy on the phone, introduced myself, and this and that, and I think she probably met John earlier on at a meeting when I wasn’t there, just to check him out, to make sure that he wasn’t some kind of sleaze ball. I guess it always a little bit suspect. There are frequently creeps posing as photographers. I have no idea if Cindy had that concern, but I’m pretty sure she met John before I actually met Noni and Sunyata.
‘What happened was that we set up a weekend to take a bunch of photographs. The first weekend that we did, we had a bunch of different shots. We had Noni in what I refer to as the attic shot. She’s curled up in a big chair reading a book and surrounded by a lot of stuff that looks like it’s her own private little corner in an attic, and there were tons of props, most of them were mine, some of them were John’s. So we did that shot which was a major set up shot, it was a lot of moving a lot of stuff around. I remember that my truck was pretty darn full with stuff for that shot.
‘We did another shot that was a valentine shot which I got a swing for and a kind of frilly dress and a valentine and it was Noni on a swing, and then one of Sunyata in a teddy. It was some kind of sexy lingerie thing. She was on a floor that had squares of linoleum on it, and another shot of Sunyata in a lounge chair. Yes, she was in a bathing suit, I remember because I went shopping – did I go shopping with her? I think I did, because she and I were close to the same size, and I remember thinking, getting her measurements and I tried it on and I thought oh yeah, if it fits me, it’ll fit her. Anyway, so those were the four shots we did – we did them on the weekend of June 30 of 1984.
‘At the time it seemed like Sunyata was fifteen, Noni was thirteen and there’s a lot of difference between being a thirteen year old girl and a fifteen year old girl. Sunyata was really quite a young woman, and Noni was still more of a little girl, and that was how she appeared, that was her look, and that was how John conceived of the casting of what he was going to do with these two kids in the shots. So Sunyata kind of got all the sexy stuff, and Noni kind of got the innocent stuff. It wasn’t until after I worked with her more that I realised “Oh! God!” She is way too hip and grown up to be doing these shots, like a little girl on a swing with a valentine, and there was another shot we did when we did a second weekend there was a shot of Noni as Peter Pan.
‘The first weekend when we worked with her I didn’t really know her, hadn’t been around her and so it didn’t seem weird, but the second weekend I thought, “Oh God, we’re making Noni into Peter Pan, I’m sure she hates this,” because she was really a hip kid, she was like into all the latest music. There was a second weekend where we spent the entire weekend doing shots again, and that was on the weekend of March 9th and 10th of 1985, so it was about nine months after the first round, and at that time we did Noni as Peter Pan, and then Noni with the wrestler, where she’s in the dress made out of plastic bubble wrap. We did Sunyata in a neon green lace body suit, and Sunyata in a 1940s ship’s waiting room. Anyway, by the second weekend we worked with Noni, I was really aware that she was way too hip with what we were doing with her, making her into Peter Pan, and making her into whatever. The other one was – the one with the wrestler. The bubble wrap and the wrestler was better.
‘I made a spandex mask and tights for the wrestler that were half one colour, like there was a centre seam so the guys leg was one colour and one leg was the other colour, and then on his head it was the same thing, half of his face in each colour, and then the bubble wrap dress that I made for Noni, I just threw a bunch of stuff in I had, you know plastic bags, and bubble wrap, and yards of plastic, and different colours of scraps of spandex – for that one, I just threw a bunch of stuff together and then just cut and wrapped her into the costume right there on the spot, I didn’t really go in there with a plan, I just had a bunch of stuff to play with and winged it. I remember one of those shots kind of looking at this wrestler guy like ‘Oh! Spare me!’ which kind of copy essences of how she was throughout that shoot.
‘She was like way more hip than what we were casting her as. The ironic thing is that we had seen Sunyata as this girl who… Sunyata, well actually both had absolutely gorgeous skin, but John said ‘Oh! God! Sunyata would be great in a beauty shot, she’s got the most beautiful skin.’ Well, Noni had the most beautiful skin as well, but she was so much younger or that she just seemed younger that we didn’t cast her into those sorts of things.
I think we did another thing with her later. I remember seeing her at John’s studio after that time and thinking this kid is off and running, or maybe it was the second round of shots that we did where Cindy and Michael, Noni’s parents were there and they were talking about how, now that she had an agent in LA and she was up for this picture, I think she was about to do Lucas, or she was maybe going to get cast in Lucas, and … Oh, I think the second time she had dyed her hair black too, because that was a real change, but she turned the corner from being a kid to being a young woman, and all of a sudden I just realised that this kid is going places.
‘She had tremendous support from her family. Cindy and Michael were pretty broke. I had a note around the time I was talking to her parents and making the arrangements for the photographs, the agreement between them and John, I believe, was that they were going to pay for film, and I have a note that they paid 86 dollars and 25 cents per girl for the film. I know John covered all the cost for all the rentals, and all the stuff that I had to get – all the costumes, props rental and stuff. I, of course, put all my time into everything for free. And for me, it was just an opportunity to get a whole bunch of shots done and a whole bunch of stuff into my book. I was saying about her parents, that they were so supportive of her.
‘They came across as being hippies, but not spaced out hippies. They were, I would describe them more as conscious hippies. They were really interested in making sure that their kids got what they wanted to get. In other words they really supported their kids. They thought, well, Noni wants this, and we’re just going to do everything we can to make it possible for her, and she had been studying acting at ACT, and they had taken her to the rock concert where she had met Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. They were so there for her in a way that it’s very unusual to see parents so there for their kids.
‘I think in all the time that I have been a stylist, which, you know, God, it’s been eons, whatever, 99 minus 82, whatever that adds up to, seventeen years? In all the years I’ve been a stylist, I can maybe think of one other kid that I had that feeling about her parents, that her parents were just completely there for her. They were going to drive Noni here, they were going to take her to LA, they were going to find her an agent. They were just really going to make it happen for her. It wasn’t in a pushy way, and it wasn’t because they wanted to be famous, it was my perception that they were responding to her intensity about wanting to pursue this, and it was really pretty impressive.
‘It was really enviable to think that someone’s parents were so, so there for them. The last time I saw Noni, I thought, and I didn’t even know that she had become Winona Ryder. I don’t even know when I found that out. John told me a year later or something. But I remember when she left, I said, “Well, Noni, when you’re famous, if you need a costume designer, give me a call, you know,” at the same moment I was thinking, why would she ever call a person to be a costume designer when she’s famous, someone who made her look like Peter Pan, and like a little girl on a swing when she was even more mature than that at 13.
‘She just had a presence, and a reality and a focus about her. She was a kid but she wasn’t a kid. She had a very very big vision for a kid. I think of most 13 year olds as being concerned like who’s popular at school, and what they’re wearing, or just kind of little petty stuff, and Noni just had this thing, she just wanted to study acting, and wanted to be in a bigger arena, and I don’t know if she saw herself that way, or that she sees she was that way now, but I saw it in her.
‘They talk about Clara Bow as being the it girl, that there was some kind of charisma about her, that just people saw her and like she was it. Well, Noni was like that, she was it, and after being exposed to both of the girls, I think the last time I saw Cindy I asked her how Sunyata was doing and she said, Sunyata was more interested in being behind the camera, and maybe being a stylist or doing something that wasn’t in front of the camera, and after getting to know the girls, it was interesting because Noni was so present in there and so obviously going places, and Sunyata was definitely like you know stepping back into the shadows, and that was the opposite of I guess how John and I saw them when we first met them, getting to know them was the opposite of the first impression you would have had about them.
‘You asked me about memories of an entire shoot from when you and John set up the studio, doing the styling of the shoot, wardrobe etc, through to Winona arriving at the studio through the shoots to when you finished and anything else I can think off, blah blah.
‘She was there the whole day as I recall. I don’t think John and I had any set up time much because… I guess John did set building like that Peter Pan shot, I think he built the rooftop thing and set up lights and stuff the day before, but we pretty much… yeah, I don’t think we did a whole lot of set up, I mean the big set building stuff you do ahead of time, but mostly they were just kind of there, hanging out as we were going between shots, like when Sunyata was being shot, Noni was kind of hanging out and watching, and when Noni was being shot, Sunyata was kind of hanging out and watching.
‘I think I told you that thing about the second weekend when John provided food for the whole weekend, I think it was bagels all weekend, and I ate nothing but bagels for two days, and didn’t eat another bagel for five years. I mean that kind of anecdote kind of belongs nowhere, but it’s weird the stuff you remember. That was something that really stuck with me. And yeah, you know, there were just kind of like hanging out, and a lot of times on a shoot, I’m real busy, I’m like getting somebody ready or fixing this or setting up that, or breaking down this, or repackaging that, or organising things.
‘I tend to be fairly frantic on a shoot and not too hangy-outy about stuff. I remember more at least dressing stuff with Sunyata because Sunyata had on like these kind of, well, when she had on a lace body suit, I was helping her get dressed and that kind of stuff, but that’s a little more intimate than dressing someone in a Peter Pan outfit. Yeah, we were all just kind of there, and it’s pretty busy on a shoot like that when you’re trying to do four shots in a day or two big shots in a day, it’s pretty busy.’