Fred Koenekamp, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer on 'The Towering Inferno,' Dies at 94

Fred Koenekamp - American Society of Cinematographers 19th  Awards -Getty-H 2017
Mason Trullinger/FilmMagic

His long list of credits also includes 'Patton,' 'Papillon,' 'Islands in the Stream' and 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'

Fred Koenekamp, the Oscar-winning cinematographer known for his work on such films as Patton, Papillon and The Towering Inferno, has died. He was 94.

Koenekamp died May 31, his daughter Kathy told The Hollywood Reporter. He suffered a stroke last year and died at her home in Bonita Springs, Fla.

Koenekamp spent more than a decade at MGM, where he served as director of photography on several films as well as on the stylish NBC series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The innovative cinematographer won his Oscar (shared with Joseph F. Biroc) for the disaster-film classic The Towering Inferno (1974) and also was nominated for Patton (1970) and Islands in the Stream (1977), a pair of George C. Scott starrers directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.

He also collaborated with Schaffner on Papillon (1973), Yes, Giorgio (1982) and Welcome Home (1989).

Koenekamp served as a DP on more than 40 features, including Live a Little, Love a Little (1968), The Great Bank Robbery (1969), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), Billy Jack (1971), Kansas City Bomber (1972), Uptown Saturday Night (1974), Fun With Dick and Jane (1977), The Champ (1979), The Amityville Horror (1979), First Family (1980) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension (1984).

Koenekamp served a 16-year apprenticeship before he became a director of photography, and he retired in the late 1980s. The American Society of Cinematographers honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

His father was H.F. Koenekamp, an Oscar nominee who began his career as a cinematographer at Mack Sennett Studios in 1913 and did special effects work on films including High Sierra, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, White Heat and Strangers on a Train. He died in 1992 at age 100.

“It didn’t mean that much as a young kid that my dad worked in pictures,” Koenekamp recalled in a 2005 interview with American Cinematographer magazine. “But every once in a while, he would take me to the studio on Saturdays. He was in special effects at Warner Bros., and Stage 5 housed the camera and special effects department. There was a balcony that overlooked the stage where they had all the miniatures. I used to just love to go up there and look around.”

A native of Los Angeles, Koenekamp spent 3½ years in the Navy, serving in the South Pacific. He landed a job as a camera loader at RKO in 1947, and "all of a sudden I was totally fascinated by the picture business," he recalled.

He became an assistant cameraman on Underwater! (1955), starring Jane Russell, where he learned to do underwater work. MGM then hired him to work a camera on an Esther Williams movie.

At the studio, he graduated to camera operator and worked on Raintree County (1957), The Brothers Karamazov (1958) and such TV shows as The Lieutenant, created by Gene Roddenberry, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., for which he did nearly 100 episodes and earned Emmy nominations in 1965 and 1966.

“I was on The Great Bank Robbery [at Warner Bros.] when I got my really big break,” he said in the 2005 interview. “My agent called and said Fox wanted me to interview with a director. It turned out to be Frank Schaffner, and the picture was Patton."

After he and Irwin Allen collaborated on The Towering Inferno, the producer hired him again for The Swarm (1978), When Time Ran Out … (1980) and the 1985 CBS telefilm Alice in Wonderland.

In addition to Kathy, survivors include his other children Barbara, Dona and Jim — the head of Fire in Motion, which supplies fire trucks and other related apparatus to Hollywood productions — seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A memorial will take place at 1 p.m. on June 17 at Eternal Valley Memorial Park and Mortuary in Newhall, Calif.