THE MAN IN BLACK IN VENTURA

by Richard Senate

Years ago Mr. John Anthony Miller opened his exclusive Phantom Bookshop at the Zander Building in downtown Ventura. When he moved into the shop he discovered two awards behind a door awarded to singer/songwriter Johnny Cash, the legendary “Man in Black”. He discovered that the popular recording artist and actor once rented the same space as an office when he lived in Casitas Springs! Here he built his dream house that still stands on a hill above the community and planted the row of Cyprus trees that still hide the home from onlookers. Johnny Cash wasn’t home much and his stay in Ventura County was not a good time for him.

Born in poverty in 1932 in Kingsland, Arkansas, he learned to play the guitar at an early age, singing in church. He served in the Air Force and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant in the 12th Radio Squadron stationed in West Germany, tasked with the mission of monitoring radio signals from the Soviet Union. He is credited with being the first to pick up the radio broadcast that told of the death of Communist dictator Joseph Stalin. When he left the service he married his girlfriend Vivian Liberto and started a family. A recording contract and hit songs propelled his career but also called for him to travel across the nation on tour. His wife stayed home and raised their four daughters. In a move to enhance his career, he came with his wife and family to California to make films in Hollywood.

His first attempts at acting were not well received. A film he made in 1961 “Five Minutes to Live” (later renamed “Door to door maniac”) did not do well at the box office. He would go on to do guest appearances on several popular shows, such as “Columbo”, “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”. In the ABC Mini-Series “North and South” he played John Brown. Briefly, he had his own TV variety show. It was at this time he moved to Casitas Springs, then a tiny hamlet of three hundred souls. He built his dream home on the side of a hill that afforded a splendid vista of the Ventura River Valley. He took his daughters picnicking at Foster Park and to Lake Casitas. He spent time in Ventura where he rented his business office. But personal problems and narcotics began to take their toll on his life. Stories say that once he got drunk and played his guitar on the roof of his house one night, and legends indicate he visited the Country Western club “Ban-Dar” in Ventura. How true the stories are, is debatable. His marriage in ruin he divorced his first wife, who remarried and moved to Ventura. Johnny Cash would go on to marry June Carter and she managed to keep him off drugs and enhance and reinvigorate his career. Together they would have a son, John Carter Cash. Johnny Cash died in 2003 one year after the death of June Carter Cash.

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What of the awards John Antony Miller found? He managed to find one of Johnny Cash’s daughters, who lived in the area and gave them to her. Today Johnny Cash is recognized as a true musical pioneer, helping to establish modern “Rock-a-Billy”, “Country Western”, and “Gospel.” He in listed in the hall of fame for each group. His records sold 90 million would wide.

Perhaps this small place in the Zander Building at 429 E. Main Street, Ventura, should be given a plaque to recognize the role our community had in the career of the famed “Man in Black.”

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