Profile: A.S.C

By Ormond, John | American Cinematographer, August 1977 | Go to article overview

Profile: A.S.C


Ormond, John, American Cinematographer


LEONARD SOUTH, A.S.C.

Within a four-week period earlier this year, Leonard South won elections as a governor of the American Society of Cinematographers and as special governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

It's a measure of the respect held for South by his peers in the film and television world. They admire the work and the integrity - of the cinematographer who became known in the industry as "Hitch's man."

Over a 25-year span, he has photographed most of Alfred Hitchcock's movies, either as director of photography, assistant cameraman or camera operator.

This transpired through a prior association with noted Hollywood cinematographer Robert (Bob) Burks, who he worked with in the late 1940s at Warners' special effects camera department.

"You'd have to say that Bob Burks and Alfred Hitchcock have been the1 guiding lights in my entire career," the tanned, relaxed-looking South told me in an interview. "Without either one of them, things might have been very different."

Burks (who died in 1968) won an assignment in 1950 as director of photography on a Jane Wyman film, "A KISS IN THE DARK", which Delmer Daves directed. Burks took South with him, as his camera assistant.

Two years later, again at Warners, the camera twosome of Burks and South went to work on their first Hitchcock movie. "STRANGERS ON A TRAIN".

"We both worked so well with Hitch, that he used us on practically all of his pictures after that," recalled South.

The lens firm of Burks and South photographed "DIAL M FOR MURDER", "REAR WINDOW", "NORTH BY NORTHWEST", and "TO CATCH A THIEF". On the latter picture, South won promotion to camera operator.

"We did every one of Hitch's movies during that period, except 'PSYCHO'," he recalled.

During this time, Len also worked as operator on two Clark Gable films, for the Perlberg-Seaton company.

Understandably, South regards Hitchcock as a moviemaker par excellence. "He's one of the most amazing men in the industry," he told me. "Hitchcock is that rare combination - a fine technician and a great creative artist. He's one of the few directors in the world today who really understands the camera."

Not all of Len South's film work was devoted to the Hitchcock movies, though. In addition to the Gable films, South also worked with Burks on Billy Wilder's "SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS", starring James Stewart as Lindbergh. And he operated for cinematographer Philip Lathrop on the Norman Jewison picture, "CINCINNATI KID".

Despite this formidable list of credits, Len South still hadn't become a director of photography. This was principally due, he reminisced, to the fact that the "old firm" of Burks & South had fared so well, he was quite content to keep it that way.

One day, though, an old friend, cinematographer Richard Kline, took him aside.

"It's about time you became a first cameraman," said Kline. "And I'd like to see it happen right now."

Kline convinced his friend to tackle a television series, "T.H.E. CAT", starring Robert Loggia. South took over as first cameraman, and supervised photography of half the series. But he wasn't happy on the show, and departed to MGM for another series, "PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISES".

His first feature assignment as cinematographer was "HANG 'EM HIGH", a Clint Eastwood western filmed on location in New Mexico and at MGM for United Artists. That was in 1967.

Still more recently, he photographed the Mario Thomas TV series, "THAT GIRL", for three years. And he did a two-year stint as cameraman for Stan Freberg TV commercials. "That was enjoyable," said Len. "Freberg was such a creative guy."

He additionally photographed a string of MOWs (Movies of the Week) at Universal, Paramount, Warners and MGM between 1972 and 1974.

In 1975, he was called back by his favorite director to be director of photography on Hitchcock's "THE FAMILY PLOT". …

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