Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 16 July 1901. Education: Attended Cooper Union, New York; City College of New York; Columbia University, New York. Family: Married the actress Mary Anderson. Career: Mechanical engineer: assistant to Nicholas J. Shamroy, and developed the Lawrence motor; work as laboratory technician and photographer on experimental films attracted producers' attention: 1927—first film as cinematographer; then worked at 20th Century-Fox for 30 years. Awards: Academy Award for The Black Swan, 1942; Wilson, 1944; Leave Her to Heaven, 1945; Cleopatra, 1963. Died: July 1974.
Films as Cinematographer:
Catch As Catch Can Hutchinson); Land of the Lawless (Buckingham); Hidden Aces (Mitchell); Pirates of the Sky (Andrews); Tongues of Scandal (Clements); The Trunk Mystery (Crane)
Bitter Sweets (Hutchinson); The Last Moment (Fejos); Out with the Tide (Hutchinson); The Tell-Tale Heart (Klein—short)
Alma de Gaucho (Otto)
Women Men Marry (Hutchinson)
Stowaway (Whitman); A Strange Adventure (Whitman and Del Ruth)
Jennie Gerhardt (Gering); Her Bodyguard (Beaudine) (co); Three Cornered Moon (Nugent)
Good Dame (Gering); Thirty Day Princess (Gering); Kiss and Make Up (Thompson); Ready for Love (Gering); Behold My Wife (Leisen)
Private Worlds (La Cava); She Married Her Boss (La Cava); Accent on Youth (Ruggles); She Couldn't Take It (Garnett); Fugitive (Howard)
Soak the Rich (Hecht and MacArthur); Fatal Lady (Ludwig); Spendthrift (Walch); Wedding Present (Wallace)
You Only Live Once (F. Lang); Her Husband Lies (Ludwig); The Great Gambini (C. Vidor); She Asked for It (Kenton); Blossoms on Broadway (Wallace)
Young in Heart (Wallace)
Little Old New York (H. King); I Was an Adventuress (Ratoff) (co); Lillian Russell (Cummings); Four Sons (Mayo); Down Argentine Way (Cummings) (co); Tin Pan Alley (W. Lang)
That Night in Rio (Cummings) (co); The Great American Broadcast (Mayo) (co); Moon over Miami (W. Lang) (co); A Yank in the RAF (H. King); Confirm or Deny (Mayo)
Roxie Hart (Wellman); Ten Gentlemen from West Point (Hathaway); The Black Swan (H. King)
Crash Dive (Mayo); Stormy Weather (Stone); Claudia (Goulding)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Kazan); Where Do We Go from Here? (Ratoff); State Fair (W. Lang); The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (Seaton); Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl)
Forever Amber (Preminger); Daisy Kenyon (Preminger)
That Lady in Ermine (Lubitsch and Preminger)
Prince of Foxes (H. King); Twelve O'Clock High (H. King)
Cheaper by the Dozen (W. Lang); Two Flags West (Wise)
On the Riviera (W. Lang); David and Bathsheba (H. King)
With a Song in My Heart (W. Lang); Wait 'till the Sun Shines, Nellie (H. King); Down among the Sheltering Palms (Goulding); The Snows of Kilimanjaro (H. King)
Tonight We Sing (Leisen); Call Me Madame (W. Lang); The Girl Next Door (Sale); White Witch Doctor (Hathaway); The Robe (H. King); King of the Khyber Rifles (H. King)
The Egyptian (Curtiz); There's No Business Like Show Business (W. Lang)
Daddy Long Legs (Negulesco); Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (H. King); Good Morning Miss Dove (Koster)
The King and I (W. Lang); The Best Things in Life Are Free (Curtiz); The Girl Can't Help It (Tashlin)
The Desk Set (W. Lang)
South Pacific (Logan) (co); The Bravados (H. King); Rally 'round the Flag, Boys (McCarey)
Porgy and Bess (Preminger); The Blue Angel (Dmytryk); Beloved Infidel (H. King)
Wake Me When It's Over (LeRoy); North to Alaska (Hathaway)
Snow White and The Three Stooges (W. Lang)
Tender Is the Night (H. King)
Cleopatra (Mankiewicz); The Cardinal (Preminger)
What a Way to Go (Lee Thompson)
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (Lee Thompson); The Agony and the Ecstasy (Reed); Do Not Disturb (Levy)
The Glass Bottom Boat (Tashlin)
Planet of the Apes (Schaffner); The Secret Life of an American Wife (Axelrod)
Skidoo (Preminger); Justine (Cukor)
By SHAMROY: articles—
"Evolution of a Cameraman," in Films in Review (New York), April 1951.
"Filming the Big Dimension," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1953.
"Shooting in CinemaScope," in Films in Review (New York), May 1953.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1963.
In Sources of Light, edited by Charles Higham, London, 1970.
On SHAMROY: articles—
Gavin, Arthur, on South Pacific in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1958.
Gavin, Arthur, on Porgy and Bess in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1959.
Gavin, Arthur, on Cleopatra in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1963.
Lightman, Herb A., on The Cardinal in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), June 1964.
Lightman, Herb A., on Planet of the Apes in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), April 1968.
Film Comment (London), no. 13, 1973.
Obituary in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1974.
Luft, Herbert, in Films in Review (New York), January 1975.
"Wrap Shot," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1997.
* * *
Leon Shamroy's films of the 1950s demonstrate a mastery of Technicolor. He is a colorist, and he only achieved his best work with the advent of color in the cinema. If another Hollywood cameraman, Lee Garmes, resembles Rembrandt, as many critics feel, then it can be said that Shamroy is the cinema's equivalent to Peter Paul Rubens.
Shamroy's black-and-white films still have some interest because of their strong independent strains. In the late 1920s he participated in the making of experimental films. The Last Moment, which he worked on with Paul Fejos, was the first silent film made without intertitles and filmed entirely with subjective, point-of-view shots. Shamroy worked for a while with Robert Flaherty, which may have developed the cameraman's realistic side. During 1930 he did extensive documentary work more for his own enjoyment than for anything else. Reality had its own intrinsic interest for Shamroy. In forwarding his desire to make the medium of film better able to render real objects in actual space, Shamroy employed lighting in such a way as to achieve high-contrast with lots of shadows.
Nevertheless, for all his realism, he drew heavily on the artifice of film. In Private Worlds Shamroy was among the first to employ zoom lenses. Further, his realism was not the sort that concentrated on the slightest detail, but rather more resembles the later form of realism created by the French Impressionists; he strove for a sense of the actual world captured through light, in a glance. During the 1930s Shamroy began his association with Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht; also, at 20th Century-Fox, Shamroy's experimental spirit was allowed to blossom under the light and nourishing control of Darryl F. Zanuck.
In the 1940s Shamroy got his great chance to work in Technicolor. It was then too that he earned three Academy Awards—in 1942 for The Black Swan, in 1944 for Wilson, and in 1945 for Leave Her to Heaven. He continued to perfect his color techniques. He evocatively employed studio light to suggest the natural light of Africa in The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Egyptian—two neglected pieces of cinematic virtuosity. In Justine, Shamroy used one major light, with two secondary bulbs, to suggest dawn light. Shamroy was very much at home in the studio.
The peculiar balance of Shamroy's cinematography between actuality and artifice becomes clearest in South Pacific, where Shamroy had to use color-filter effects against his will. The shots containing these expressionistic effects, forced on him by the director Joshua Logan, are poorly integrated into the impressionistic reality of the film, done for the most part on location in the South Pacific. Shamroy was a painstaking craftsman when Hollywood was offering its strange studio blend of reality and artistry. He was much more in his element when filming the studio sets of The King and I, and this film is a rich and shimmering feast for the eye—one of the finest among the filmed musicals.