Legendary Cinematographer Oswald Morris Dies at 98

Morris (right) at the 1972 Oscars with Ann-Margret and John Gavin.
Morris (right) at the 1972 Oscars with Ann-Margret and John Gavin.
 Richard Markell/Courtesy Everett Collection

Oswald Morris, the acclaimed British cinematographer who earned an Oscar for the 1971 musical Fiddler on the Roof and paired often with John Huston, has died. He was 98.

"Ossie" Morris, whose incredible resume includes such wide-ranging films as Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962), Franco Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and Jim Henson's The Great Muppet Caper (1981), died Monday at his home in Dorset, England, the British Society of Cinematographers announced.

He was one of the most outstanding directors of photography of the 20th century, perhaps best known for expanding the parameters of color cinematography, especially on Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952).

Morris also worked alongside Huston on Beat the Devil (1953), Moby Dick (1956), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), A Farewell to Arms (1957), The Roots of Heaven (1958), Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), The MacKintosh Man (1973) and The Man Who Would Be King (1975).

Morris' 2006 autobiography was titled Huston, We Have a Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Filmmaking Memories.

In addition to receiving his Oscar for Norman Jewison's Fiddler, Morris earned Academy Award nominations for his work on Carol Reed's best picture winner, Oliver! (1968), and Sidney Lumet's The Wiz (1978).

Morris also collaborated with Lumet on The Hill (1965), Equus (1977) and Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), and teamed with Henson for a second time on The Dark Crystal (1982), the cinematographer's final credit and 58th feature. 

His first gig as a cinematographer was on fellow Englishman Ronald Neame's Golden Salamander (1950), and he would go on to pair with the director on The Promoter (1952), The Man Who Never Was (1956), Mister Moses (1965), Scrooge (1970) and The Odessa Files (1974).

Regular collaborators also included Herbert Ross on Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976); Reed on The Key (1958) and Our Man in Havana (1959); and Tony Richardson on Look Back in Anger (1959) and The Entertainer (1960).

Morris also did The Guns of Navarone (1961), The Pumpkin Eater (1964), The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965), Sleuth (1972) and the James Bond installment, The Man With the Golden Gun (1974).

Morris shot Fiddler in Yugoslavia through a silk stocking over the lens, to create the sepia effect he was after.

For Moulin Rouge, filmed in three-strip Technicolor, Huston wanted the biopic of Toulouse-Lautrec to look as though the French painter had directed it. Morris employed light-scattering fog filters on the camera and filled the sets with smoke so that the actors stood out from the background.

In a tale related on the BSC website, Technicolor executives confronted Huston and Morris and said their work was faulty and not "up to Technicolor standards."

Huston and Morris watched dailies in the theater, at which point the director allegedly turned to Morris and said, "What do you think, Os?" To which Morris replied, "Exactly as I wanted it." Huston replied, "Me, too," then turned to the Technicolor execs with, "Gentlemen, thank you and f--- you!"

Moulin Rouge would become a favorite of Technicolor inventor Herbert Calmus, and Morris was awarded the BSC's best cinematography award for the film.

Morris was born Nov. 22, 1915, outside London. He began his career at age 16 with an unpaid apprenticeship as a runner and clapper boy at Wembley Studios, then served as a Royal Air Force bomber pilot during World War II. Later, he worked as a camera operator on David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948).

Morris was one of the founding members of the British Society of Cinematographers and served as BSC president from 1960-62. He was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1998 for services to cinematography and the film industry and received the American Society of Cinematographers' International Achievement Award in 2000.

Survivors include his daughters Christine and Gillian, and son Roger.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4

 
 
comments powered by Disqus