In Memoriam

Article excerpt

Joseph Biroc, ASC, director of photography for a half-century and member of the American Society of Cinematographers since 1948, died on Sept. 7, 1996, at the age of 93. Biroc earned an Academy Award (along with Fred Koenekamp, ASC) for his work on the 1974 disaster epic The Towering Inferno, and was nominated for an Oscar in 1964 for Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte. He also photographed the classic holiday film It's a Wonderful Life.

Biroc saw his first movie in 1910 on a vacant lot five blocks from his home. The New York-born youth decided at that very moment that he was going to spend the rest of his life making movies. In 1918, when he was 15 years old, he got a job in the film lab at Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The following year he moved to Craftsman Labs, which later was merged into Consolidated Film Industries. For about six years he toiled in various film labs in Fort Lee, Long Island and Los Angeles.

At last, in 1925, he was given his chance as an assistant cameraman at Paramount's Long Island Studios. Two years later, he moved to Hollywood and an assistant cameraman's berth at United Artists Studio (now the Warner-Hollywood Studio). In 1929, as talking pictures came to the fore, he became an operative cameraman at RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., a new company established by Radio Corporation of America and the Keith and Orpheum theater circuits at the former Film Booking Office studio. He remained at RKO for most of the next 20 years, operating for many of the leading cinematographers of the day.

Biroc's career began to take off in the Thirties. Although David Abel, ASC is the cinematographer of record for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical, Shall We Dance (1938), Biroc was the uncredited director of photography for the last five weeks of production. He was also uncredited for Bombardier (1942), another five-week stint as the replacement for credited cameraman Nicholas Musuraca, ASC. At the advent of World War II, Biroc entered the U. S. Army, received a commission as captain, and served as a cameraman in the European campaign - one of the first to arrive in liberated Paris.

After the war, Biroc returned to the studios as an operator. He started working for Victor Milner, ASC on It's a Wonderful Life (1946), produced by Frank Capra's new independent company, Liberty Films. Milner, however, had another commitment and was replaced temporarily by Joseph Walker, ASC, who had to leave partway through production. …