Oral Histories

Interview of James Wong Howe

Cinematographer and director.
Recollections of James Wong Howe
Oral History of the Motion Picture in America
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Cinematographer and director.
Silver, Alain J.
Howe, James Wong
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
9.5 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
Series Statement:
These interviews with prominent individuals in the motion picture industry were completed under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Film Institute to the UCLA Department of Theater Arts. The project was directed by Howard Suber, UCLA Department of Theater Arts. The UCLA Oral History Program provided technical advice but was not involved in respondent selection, research participation, research preparation, interviewing, editing, or transcript preparation.
Birth in China; emigration to United States, 1904; boyhood in Pasco, Washington; move to California, 1916; sees Mack Sennett company shooting on Los Angeles street; acquaintance with cameraman Len Powers; early experiments with still photography; first studio job for Alvin Wycoff, head of Cecil B. DeMille's camera department; assistant cameraman for DeMille; promoted to second camera operator, 1919; making portrait photographs for actors; first cameraman for Mary Miles Minter on Drums of Fate, Famous Players-Lasky, 1922; camera techniques, 1910s and 1920s; cooperation between cinematographer and director; working with Martin Ritt; changes in cinematographer's functions; adapting to sound films; lighting scenes for color films; William Cameron Menzies and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1938; shooting night scenes at night; Raoul Walsh and Lewis Milestone; F. W. Murnau's technique in silent films; roller skates and hand-held camera on Body and Soul, 1947; work in England for London Films, Alexander Korda, 1937; making Prisoner of Zenda for David O. Selznick, 1937; photographing Madeleine Carroll; John Cromwell; Hal Wallis; John Garfield; Wallace Beery in O'Shaughnessy's Boy, 1935; Alexander MacKendrick and Sweet Smell of Success, 1957; challenge of lighting set for The Molly Maguires, 1969; problems of long hours and short schedules in television work; artistic preference for working on location; camera placement; lighting trial sequence in The Outrage, 1964; Paul Newman; Sidney Lumet; working relationships with actors; Clifford Odets and The Story on Page One, 1960.