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Joseph Francis Biroc
February 12, 1903
New York City New York
|Died||September 7, 1996 93) (aged|
Joseph Francis Biroc, ASC (February 12, 1903 – September 7, 1996) was an American cinematographer. He was born in New York City and began working in films at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After working there for approximately six years, he moved to Los Angeles. Once in Southern California, Biroc worked at the RKO Pictures movie studio. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and filmed the Liberation of Paris in August 1944. In 1950, Biroc left RKO Pictures and freelanced on projects at various studios. In addition to his film work, which included It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), Biroc worked on various television series, including the Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman . He frequently collaborated with film director Robert Aldrich.
Biroc won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for The Towering Inferno (1974), which he shared with Fred J. Koenekamp, and two Primetime Emmy Awards.
Joseph Francis Biroc was born on February 12, 1903, in New York City, New York.He attended Emerson High School in Union City, New Jersey only to drop out to pursue a career in film – a subject he'd been passionate about since childhood. He saw his “first movie in 1910 on a vacant lot five blocks from his home” and knew from then he wanted to spend the rest of his life making movies.
At the age of fifteen, with his uncle's help, Biroc began his career in film as a film lab technician with Paragon Labs in Fort Lee, New Jersey in 1918. The apprenticeship marked the beginning of a series of jobs at numerous laboratories for Biroc – which was then a required step for aspiring cinematographers.
Two years later, he started working at Craftsman Labs in New York from 1920 to 1923 and shortly for Goldwyn Pictures in Culver City, California in 1923. After his time at Goldwyn Pictures, Biroc returned to New York and took a job as film printer for Famous Players-Lasky, where he was shortly after promoted to assistant cameraman. After Famous Players-Lasky shut down in 1927, Biroc moved to Los Angeles to work for United Artists prior to moving to RKO to work as a camera operator. Biroc started at RKO by serving as assistant to cinematographers Leo Tover, Robert De Grasse, and Edward Cronjager. During his time at RKO, Biroc worked on Cimarron (1931), Swing Time (1936), and Shall We Dance (1937).He also worked on A Woman Rebels (1936), Sylvia Scarlett (1935), and Five Came Back (1939) (among others), but received no screen credit as RKO hardly credited camera operators. His last work before World War II was for Bombardier (1943).
In 1943, Biroc began his career as a motion picture cameraman in the Army Signal Corps. Two years later, he filmed the brutalities at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany while serving as captain of the sixth detachment alongside George Stevens's Special Motion Picture Coverage Unit. The end of the war marked a significant period in Biroc's life as he achieved the rank of captain and eventually, the rank of major. He also obtained his first credit as cinematographer for It's A Wonderful Life (1946). Following this, Biroc “served as cinematographer for the first 3-D American feature length film in color” titled Bwana Devil (1952).
In 1952, Biroc began his association with producer-director Robert Aldrich, starting with shooting an episode of The Doctor and moving onto films such as Attack (1956), World for Ransom (1954), Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte for which Biroc received his first Oscar nomination, The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), and The Longest Yard (1974). Biroc also “shot film for network television early on, such as musical shorts featuring Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong"– a feat considered rare for cameramen during the time period. During the majority of the 1950s, Biroc focused on television – both black and white and color. Biroc concluded his career in the 1970s and 1980s with work on television movies, specials, and miniseries.
Biroc worked alongside four-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Joseph Walker in filming It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and achieved his first on-screen credit for his contribution.
Biroc was the cinematographer for the first feature-length 3-D color film in history, Bwana Devil (1952). He writes in an article for the American Cinematographer, “while other 3-D systems have employed dual cameras, none have pursued the theory that the 3-D cameras should see and record the scene exactly as the human eyes see it.” (336, August 1952). He goes on to explain how Natural Vision, the corporation he worked with, provided a different experience with 3-D pictures as it induced no eye strain.
Biroc wrote an article for American Cinematographer where he explained the process behind filming the series Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977). In the article he mentions how the producers of the movie wanted the sets to look like actual locations, so each set had to have a big ceiling on it. He also mentions how he achieved a widespread shot for a scene – “we used a hospital chair as a dolly…we put a board across the handles of the wheelchair and the camera operator sat on the board.”
Biroc worked with director Wim Wenders and producers Fred Roos, Ronald Colby, and Don Guest to achieve a classic lighting look for Hammett (1982). He stated in an interview with Richard Patterson for American Cinematographer, “Actually the way I photograph is the way they photographed 40, 50, 60, 80 years ago. It's just basic lighting and basic photography.”
Biroc “was survived by one sister, Agnes Kronmeyer [who passed away in 2017] of Cranford, NJ, and four grandchildren.”
|1929||The Rescue||Herbert Brenon||Co-cinematographer with George Barnes & James Wong Howe|
|1946||It's a Wonderful Life||Frank Capra|
|1947||Magic Town||William A. Wellman|
|1948||On Our Merry Way|| Leslie Fenton |
|My Dear Secretary||Charles Martin|
|Johnny Allegro||Ted Tetzlaff|
|Mrs. Mike||Louis King|
|1950||The Killer That Stalked New York||Earl McEvoy|
|1951||Cry Danger||Robert Parrish|
|The Bushwhackers||Rod Amateau|
|All That I Have||William F. Claxton|
|1952||Red Planet Mars||Harry Horner|
|Bwana Devil||Arch Oboler|
|Loan Shark||Seymour Friedman|
|Without Warning!||Arnold Laven|
|1953||The Tall Texan||Elmo Williams|
|The Glass Wall||Maxwell Shane|
|The Twonky||Arch Oboler|
|Vice Squad||Arnold Laven|
|Donovan's Brain||Felix E. Feist|
|1954||World for Ransom||Robert Aldrich|
|Down Three Dark Streets||Arnold Laven|
|Tension at Table Rock||Charles Marquis Warren|
|1957||Run of the Arrow||Samuel Fuller|
|Forty Guns||Samuel Fuller|
|The Amazing Colossal Man||Bert I. Gordon|
|1959||The Bat||Crane Wilbur|
|The FBI Story||Mervyn LeRoy|
|1960||13 Ghosts||William Castle|
|1961||The Devil at 4 O'Clock||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Gold of Seven Saints||Gordon Douglas|
|1963||Under the Yum Yum Tree||David Swift|
|Toys In The Attic||George Roy Hill|
|Bye Bye Birdie||George Sidney|
|Gunfight at Comanche Creek||Frank McDonald|
|1964||Ride the Wild Surf||Don Taylor|
|Kitten with a Whip||Douglas Heyes|
|1964||Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte||Robert Aldrich||Nominated- Academy Award for Best Cinematography|
|Viva Las Vegas||George Sidney|
|1965||The Flight of the Phoenix||Robert Aldrich|
|I Saw What You Did||William Castle|
|1967||Enter Laughing||Carl Reiner|
|Tony Rome||Gordon Douglas|
|1968||The Killing of Sister George||Robert Aldrich|
|The Detective||Gordon Douglas|
|The Legend of Lylah Clare||Robert Aldrich|
|What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?||Lee H. Katzin|
|1970||Too Late the Hero||Robert Aldrich|
|Mrs. Pollifax-Spy||Leslie H. Martinson|
|1971||Escape from the Planet of the Apes||Don Taylor|
|The Grissom Gang||Robert Aldrich|
|Emperor of the North Pole|
|1973||Cahill U.S. Marshal||Andrew V. McLaglen|
|1974||Blazing Saddles||Mel Brooks|
|The Towering Inferno||John Guillermin||Co-cinematographer with Fred J. Koenekamp|
|The Longest Yard||Robert Aldrich|
|1978||Little Women||David Lowell Rich|
|A Family Upside Down|
|1979||Beyond the Poseidon Adventure||Irwin Allen|
|1980||Airplane!|| Jim Abrahams |
|1980||...All the Marbles||Robert Aldrich|
|1982||Hammett||Wim Wenders||Co-cinematographer with Philip H. Lathrop|
|Airplane II: The Sequel||Ken Finkleman|
|1950||Dick Tracy||5 episodes|
|1952||China Smith||Episode: "Straight Settlement"|
|Four Star Playhouse||Episode: "The Officer and the Lady"|
|1953||I'm the Law||14 episodes|
|1954||The Mickey Rooney Show||5 episodes|
|Dear Phoebe||Episode: "The Christmas Show"|
|The Lone Wolf||3 episodes|
|Police Call||Episode: "Montreal"|
|1954-55||Treasury Men in Action||12 episodes|
|1955||The Man Behind the Badge||Episode: "The Case of the Hunted Hobo"|
|My Friend Flicka||Episode: "The Stranger"|
|Screen Directors Playhouse||Episode: "The Final Tribute"|
|1955-56||TV Reader's Digest||3 episodes|
|1956||General Electric Summer Originals||Episode: "It's Sunny Again"|
|1956-58||Adventures of Superman||26 episodes|
|1957||General Electric Theater||Episode: "Mr. Kensington's Finest Hour"|
|Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Episode: "Silent Witness"|
|1957-58||Playhouse 90||3 episodes|
|1958||The Thin Man||Episode: "Unlucky Lucky Numbers"|
|Hey, Jeannie!||Episode: "The Landlord"|
|Alcoa Theatre||2 episodes|
|1959||Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre||Episode: "Checkmate"|
|Richard Diamond, Private Detective||4 episodes|
|The David Niven Show||Episode: "The Twist of the Key"|
|The Detectives||Episode: "The Streger Affair"|
|1959-60||Hotel de Paree||2 episodes|
|1960||The DuPont Show with June Allyson||Episode: "Escape"|
|Goodyear Theatre||Episode: "Author at Work"|
|1964||The Man from U.N.C.L.E.||Episode: "The Vulcan Affair"|
|1972||Ghost Story||Episode: "The New House"|
|1977||Washington: Behind Closed Doors|
|1985||A Death in California||Miniseries|
|Hell Town||Episode: "Father of Hell Town"|
|1956||Cavalry Patrol||Failed pilot|
|1958||The Adventures of Superpup|
|1971||Brian's Song||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie|
|1972||Gidget Gets Married|
|The Crooked Hearts|
|1974||Wonder Woman||Failed pilot|
|1977||SST: Death Flight|
|1978||A Family Upside Down||Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie|
|The Clone Master|
|1980||Kenny Rogers as The Gambler|
|1984||The Jerk, Too|
|A Winner Never Quits|
|1987||Time Out for Dad|
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