Ardith Thomson didn't realize her Oscar-winning brother, Hal Ashby, was dying of liver cancer until a phone call to his Malibu home a few months back.
The acclaimed director and Utah native died at age 59 at his home Tuesday. Thomson, a lifelong Ogden resident, reflected on her brother's adventures as she packed her bags last week to fly to his memorial service."His life was very different from ours," she said of the man who hitchhiked from Ogden to South-ern California in 1950 and rarely returned.
Ashby directed the 1970s films "Shampoo," "Harold and Maude," "Being There," "Bound for Glory" and "The Last Detail," and won an Oscar for editing "In the Heat of the Night" in 1967. He was preparing to direct a film of Truman Capote's, "Hand Carved Coffins," when he died.
Seventeen years his senior, Thomson said she remembers Ashby as a contented child.
"He was a real happy kid with lots and lots of friends . . . everyone liked him very well," she said.
After working his way through Ogden schools and a stint at an academy, Ashby headed for Hollywood and was soon an apprentice editor at the Republic and Disney studios.
While Thomson was working as a secretary in Ogden and later raising two children, Ashby was rising in the Hollywood hierarchy. He last came to Ogden for their mother's funeral 17 years ago, Thomson said.
Thomson said the black comedy "Harold and Maude" is her favorite among her brother's films.
"I always got a kick out of that show," she said.
Thomson said she also enjoyed "Coming Home" and "Being There." She's seen all his pictures but his last few. "They weren't very good ones," she said.
Whether it was editing or directing, Ashby always completed a film before launching into another project, Thomson said.
The two siblings saw each other at Ashby's Malibu house five or six years ago but had kept in frequent telephone contact.
"He was always laughing. It would get to be so much fun," she said.
Thomson spoke to her brother for the last time several weeks ago. "He couldn't talk to me very long because he was very sick," she said.
Ashby's only other surviving sibling, Jack, lives in Fresno, Calif. He is retired after working at the Internal Revenue Service centers in Ogden and Fresno, Thomson said.