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Isidore “Izzy” Mankofsky, who shot The Muppet Movie, Somewhere in Time and dozens of telefilms including the Farrah Fawcett-starring The Burning Bed, died Thursday of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, the American Society of Cinematographers announced. He was 89.
He also was the DP on Richard Fleischer’s The Jazz Singer (1980) and two movies directed by Savage Steve Holland and starring John Cusack: Better Off Dead … (1985) and One Crazy Summer (1986).
A three-time Emmy nominee, Mankofsky got his start at Encyclopedia Britannica Films, then made his feature debut on the AIP sequel Scream Blacula Scream (1973), starring William Marshall.
In a 2009 interview, Mankofsky said in enjoyed working with Jim Henson and his crew on The Muppet Movie (1979), directed by James Frawley.
“First of all, no [actor] complained about the light in his eyes or how long he had to stand in — you just stuck them on a pole,” he said. “And the puppeteers were really nice guys. When I asked Henson to move Kermit to the right a little for a better frame, Henson [who operated and voiced the frog] wouldn’t answer — Kermit would.”
Mankofsky followed that with a romantic period drama, the Jeannot Szwarc-directed Somewhere in Time (1980), starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. “No matter how you lit her, she looked gorgeous,” he said of Seymour. “The light just wrapped around her. Of all the actresses I’ve photographed, she was the easiest.”
For many years, he attended an annual convention held at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, where Somewhere in Time was shot. “Being there and having so many people tell me they’re glad I’m there makes me feel good,” he said. “It’s a very friendly atmosphere. And it’s good to have your ego built up sometimes!”
A son of immigrants from Ukraine, Mankofsky was born in New York City on Sept. 22, 1931. In the U.S. Air Force, he photographed athletic teams for the base magazine, learning how to shoot, process film and print pictures. “You could say that was the beginning of my career in the magical world of motion pictures,” he said.
After jobs at a TV station in Reno, Nevada and at Stewart Warner Electronics in Chicago, he joined Encyclopedia Britannica Films and shot 161 half-hour educational films in Florida.
“Each film was an opportunity to do something that I added to my book of knowledge,” he said. “Because each film presented its own problems, the cinematographer was, among a lot of other things, a problem solver.”
In 1975, Mankofsky began work at Universal Television, and he would go on to shoot such series as Columbo, Magnum, P.I. and The Wonderful World of Disney; miniseries like 1976’s Captains and Kings, 1987’s Billionaire Boys Club and 1991’s Love, Lies and Murder; and more than four dozen telefilms, including 1981’s Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, 1984’s The Burning Bed and 1988’s Fatal Judgment and A Very Brady Christmas.
He also worked on George Lucas’ Ewoks: The Battle for Endor in 1985 and reunited with the Muppets in 1991 for the theme park attraction MuppetVision 3-D.
Mankofsky received the ASC’s Presidents Award in 2009 for his leadership and service to the organization.
Survivors include his wife, Christine, whom he married in 1972.
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