Encomium: Dr. Ray Fielding

By Tomasulo, Frank P. | Film & History, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Encomium: Dr. Ray Fielding


Tomasulo, Frank P., Film & History


I believe that the first time I actually met Ray Fielding in person was in 1978. He had just delivered a guest lecture on the March of Time newsreels to Howard Suber's famous Documentary Film course at UCLA and I was a Graduate Teaching Fellow in that class. Even before meeting Dr. Fielding, though, I had read his essential books on American newsreels, the March of Time series, and special effects cinematography, as well as some of his more than 30 scholarly articles. At that first acquaintance, Ray graciously and patiently answered all my many questions about newsreels; at the time, he seemed to me to embody the phrase "walking encyclopedia." Over the years since that initial encounter, nothing has led me to revise that first impression; Ray Fielding is indeed a veritable almanac of film history, production, screenwriting, special effects, and everything cinematic. (He even knows the name of Susan Alexander Kane's off-screen physician in Citizen Kane: Dr. Cory!)

And while many individuals-inside and outside academe-may lay claim to encyclopedic knowledge, a vast majority are no doubt "nerds" who do not utilize their vast knowledge in practical ways to enhance their fellow cineastes, other than writing books and articles. Dr. Fielding not only published and lectured widely but he also made enormous contributions to the film industry and to cinema education. A quick precis of his vita will provide only a capsule summary of some of those accomplishments:

For over 45 years (until his retirement in 2003), Ray Fielding served as professor and/or administrator at six of the top film schools in the United States: UCLA, USC, University of Iowa, Temple, University of Houston, and Florida State University. At the last three, he and his colleagues created brand new programs. Ray was also the president of several professional organizations, including the Industry Film Producers Association, the University Film and Video Association (UFVA), and the Society for Cinema Studies (SCS); in addition, he served as a Trustee of the American Film Institute (AFT) and the University Film and Video Foundation, and as Vice-President of the International Congress of Cinema and Television.

Fielding also made his mark in the film and television business. At the age of sixteen, he was already an apprentice in the industry; in his early twenties, he worked as an editor and cameraman. At twentyfour, while still a student at UCLA, he headed up his own company, producing documentaries for early television and educational markets. He also provided technical services to NBC-TV and in the process got to work with Bob Hope, Milton Berle, George Gobel, Spike Jones, Donald O'Connor, Hoagy Carmichael, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Jimmy Durante. As Fielding put it, "What a privilege it was for a young person my age to work with the most celebrated comedy and variety artists of my generation."

During the 1950s, he worked in the Los Angeles film and TV industries as a writer, director, and editor. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers in 1976 and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1981 . He worked as writer or director for television films released by Walt Disney Studios, CBS Television, and the Public Broadcasting Corporation, and as a consultant to Universal Studios, United Artists, CBS Television, Trans America Corporation, Capitol Cities Broadcasting, ABC Television, BBC Television, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and Hearst Corporation.

His films have garnered top awards and screenings at the Chicago, Cleveland, American, Virgin Islands, and Florence International film festivals, and one was selected to open the Bicentennial film series at the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C., in 1976. Even during his tenure as a professor or dean, he continued to work in the movie industry as a writer, producer, consultant, visual effects supervisor, and on-camera commentator. …

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