Designer, mother of Herb Ritts

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Shirley Ritts, 87, an interior designer whose company helped popularize rattan furniture in the U.S. and who was the mother of renowned portrait photographer Herb Ritts, died Sunday at her Brentwood home, said her daughter, Christy. Ritts had been ill with emphysema.

When she married the senior Herb Ritts in 1950, he owned a furniture company that benefited from the post-World War II popularity of rattan furniture. Her husband oversaw design, and she supervised sales.

“People put the rattan there, and they thought they were cool,” Ritts told The Times in 1999. “They were living the California life, even if they were in Ohio.”


She raised her four children in a 27-room Spanish-style house in Brentwood, next door to actor Steve McQueen. The children had their own wing, but Ritts made sure it came with a bulletin-board system to keep track of chores.

Ritts helped bring the Polynesian look to Elvis Presley’s film “Blue Hawaii” (1961) by assisting with set design.

When Ritts Co. began selling high-end acrylic furniture, she traveled the world to promote it.

In the late 1970s, she and her husband divorced. She never remarried.

As her son Herb became friends with and entertained his famous clients, so did Ritts.

“Shirley has this sparkle that just radiates. She’ll be talking to Tina Turner or Madonna like she’s one of their girlfriends. There’s no age barrier with her,” the photographer said in 1999. He died at 50 in 2002.

The daughter of an ophthalmologist, Ritts was born Oct. 28, 1920, in Baltimore.