Joseph Biroc

Last updated
Joseph Biroc
Joseph Francis Biroc

(1903-02-12)February 12, 1903
New York City New York
DiedSeptember 7, 1996(1996-09-07) (aged 93)
Occupation Cinematographer
Years active1927–1989

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.

Early life and education

Joseph Francis Biroc was born on February 12, 1903, in New York City, New York. [1] 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. [2] 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. [3]

Career [2]

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. [4]

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). [2] He also worked on A Woman Rebels (1936), Sylvia Scarlett (1935), and Five Came Back (1939) [2] (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" [2] – 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.


It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

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. [2]

Bwana Devil (1952)

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. [5]

Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977)

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.” [6]

Hammett (1982)

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.” [7]

Personal life

Biroc “was survived by one sister, Agnes Kronmeyer [who passed away in 2017] of Cranford, NJ, and four grandchildren.” [3]



1929 The Rescue Herbert Brenon Co-cinematographer with George Barnes & James Wong Howe
1943 Bombardier Richard Wallace
1946 It's a Wonderful Life Frank Capra
1947 Magic Town William A. Wellman
1948 On Our Merry Way Leslie Fenton
King Vidor
My Dear Secretary Charles Martin
1949 Roughshod Mark Robson
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
1956 Nightmare Maxwell Shane
Attack Robert Aldrich
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 AldrichNominated- 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
Fitzwilly Delbert Mann
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
1972 Ulzana's Raid
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

Academy Award for Best Cinematography

The Longest Yard Robert Aldrich
Shanks William Castle
1975 Hustle Robert Aldrich
1977 The Choirboys
1978 Little Women David Lowell Rich
A Family Upside Down
1979 Beyond the Poseidon Adventure Irwin Allen
1980 Airplane! Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
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"
1960-61 Checkmate 3 episodes
1962-63 Empire 4 episodes
1964 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Episode: "The Vulcan Affair"
1972 Ghost Story Episode: "The New House"
1976 The Moneychangers Miniseries

Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie

1977 Washington: Behind Closed Doors
1978 Little Women
1980 Scruples Miniseries
1983 Casablanca 5 episodes

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series

1985A Death in California Miniseries

Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie

Hell Town Episode: "Father of Hell Town"

Television films

1956Cavalry PatrolFailed 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
Honky Tonk
Thursday's Game
1977 SST: Death Flight
1978A Family Upside DownNominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie
The Clone Master
1980 Kenny Rogers as The Gambler
1982 Desperate Lives
1984 The Jerk, Too
A Winner Never Quits
1987Time Out for Dad

Refs: [1]

Awards and nominations

Refs: [9]

Bibliography and further reading

Related Research Articles

Cinematographer Chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film

The cinematographer or director of photography is the person responsible for the photographing or recording of a film, television production, music video or other live action piece. The cinematographer is the chief of the camera and light crews working on such projects and would normally be responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image and for selecting the camera, film stock, lenses, filters, etc. The study and practice of this field is referred to as cinematography.

American Society of Cinematographers Cinematography organization

The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), founded in Hollywood in 1919, is a cultural, educational, and professional organization that is neither a labor union nor a guild. The society was organized to advance the science and art of cinematography and gather a wide range of cinematographers to discuss techniques and ideas and to advocate for motion pictures as a type of art form. Currently, the president of the ASC is Stephen Lighthill.

Vilmos Zsigmond Hungarian-American cinematographer

Vilmos ZsigmondASC was a Hungarian-American cinematographer. His work in cinematography helped shape the look of American movies in the 1970s, making him one of the leading figures in the American New Wave movement.

John Alton

John Alton, born Johann Jacob Altmann, in Sopron, Kingdom of Hungary, was an American cinematographer of Hungarian-German origin. Alton photographed some of the most famous films noir of the classic period and won an Academy Award for the cinematography of An American in Paris (1951), becoming the first Hungarian-born person to do so in the cinematography category.

Philip H. Lathrop American cinematographer

Philip H. Lathrop, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer noted for his skills with wide screen technology and detailed approach to lighting and camera placement. He spent most of his life in movie studios. Lathrop was known for such films as Touch of Evil (1958), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Point Blank (1967), Finian's Rainbow (1968), The Traveling Executioner (1970), Portnoy's Complaint (1972), Earthquake (1974), Swashbuckler (1976), The Driver (1978), Moment by Moment (1978), A Change of Seasons (1980), Foolin' Around (1980), Loving Couples (1980), and Deadly Friend (1986).

Robert Surtees (cinematographer) American cinematographer

Robert L. Surtees, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer who won three Academy Awards for the films King Solomon's Mines, The Bad and the Beautiful and the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. Surtees worked at various studios, including Universal, UFA, Warner Brothers, and MGM, lighting for notable directors Howard Hawks, Mike Nichols, and William Wyler, gaining him a reputation as one of the most versatile cinematographers of his time.

Frederick James Koenekamp, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer. He was the son of cinematographer Hans F. Koenekamp.

Owen Roizman is an American cinematographer. He has received five Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, for the films The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973), Network (1976), Tootsie (1982), and Wyatt Earp (1994). He served on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was president of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Dean Raymond Cundey, A.S.C. is an American cinematographer and film director. He is known for his collaborations with John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, as well as his extensive work in the horror genre, in addition to numerous family and comedy films. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and has been nominated for numerous BAFTAs and BSC Awards.

Russell Paul Carpenter, ASC is an American cinematographer and photographer with a long career as Director of Photography of theatrical motion pictures. He was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers.

Hal Mohr American cinematographer

Hal Mohr, A.S.C. was a famed movie cinematographer. He is known for his Oscar-winning work on the 1935 film, A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was awarded another Oscar for his work on The Phantom of the Opera in 1943, and received a nomination for The Four Poster in 1952.

Hiro Narita American cinematographer (born 1941)

Hiro Narita is an American cinematographer.

Jeffrey Scott Cronenweth, ASC is an American cinematographer based in Los Angeles, California who is known for his role as the director of photography on the David Fincher films Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. He graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and was invited to join the cinematographers branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2004. He is the son of Jordan Cronenweth, one of the most influential cinematographers in motion picture history.

Joseph Walker, A.S.C. was an American cinematographer who worked on 145 films during a career that spanned 33 years.

Gerald Perry Finnerman was an American cinematographer who worked on TV series such as Moonlighting and the original Star Trek. He served as vice president of the American Society of Cinematographers, and won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography in Entertainment Programming for a Special.

Michael Luciano was an American film and television editor with about forty feature film credits and many additional credits for television programs. From 1954 to 1977, Luciano edited 20 of the films directed, and often produced, by Robert Aldrich. Aldrich was a prolific and independent maker of popular films "who depicted corruption and evil unflinchingly, and pushed limits on violence throughout his career." Their early collaboration, the film noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955), was entered into the US National Film Registry in 1999; the unusual editing of the film has been noted by several critics. Luciano's work with Aldrich was recognized by four Academy Award nominations, for Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), The Dirty Dozen (1967), and The Longest Yard (1974).

Edward Colman was an American cinematographer. He had a prolific relationship with Walt Disney Studios; beginning his relationship with that studio in 1953 as cinematographer for the television series Dragnet. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1956 for his work on that program. He also directed many live action films for Disney; notably earning Academy Award nominations for his cinematography for the films The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and Mary Poppins (1964).

Edward Cronjager American cinematographer

Edward Cronjager was an American cinematographer, whose career spanned from the silent era through the 1950s. He came from a family of cinematographers, with his father, uncle, and brother all working in the film industry behind the camera. His work covered over 100 films, and included projects on the small screen towards the end of his career. He filmed in both black and white and color mediums, and his work received nominations for seven Academy Awards over the span of three decades, although he never won the statue.

Christian Sebaldt is a German-born cinematographer best known for his work on the long-running CSI: Crime Scene Investigation television series, for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series in 2010. In addition, he has worked on numerous major motion pictures, including Resident Evil: Apocalypse and FeardotCom, and commercials for companies like Toyota and Energizer.

John Arnold (cinematographer) American cinematographer

John Arnold (1889–1964) was an American cinematographer. He began his career in 1914, and in the next 15 years, he shot 86 films. He also worked in film administration, directing the cinematography department at MGM, and was president of the American Society of Cinematographers from 1931 through 1937, and again from 1939 to 1941. By 1938, he was regarded as one of the most authoritative experts on cinematography. He invented several pieces of camera equipment and was awarded two Oscars, both Technical Achievement Awards. The first was in 1938 for improvements on the semi-automatic follow focus device used on motion picture cameras, while the second was in 1940 for the development of the MGM mobile camera crane.


  1. 1 2 "JOSEPH F. BIROC". Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Special Collections | Margaret Herrick Library | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences". Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  3. 1 2 "In Memoriam: Joseph Biroc". American Cinematographer: 112. 1996.
  4. "Joseph F. Biroc, ASC (1903-1996)". Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  5. "Hollywood Launches 3-D Film Production". American Cinematographer: 336–340. 1952.
  6. "Photographing Washington: Behind Closed Doors". American Cinematographer. 1977.
  7. "Classic Lighting for Hammett". American Cinematographer: 1168–1169. 1982.
  8. "Nominees/Winners". Television Academy. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  9. "Index to Motion Picture Credits - Joseph Biroc". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 2016-11-27. Retrieved 23 November 2016.