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Richard H. Kline, the two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer who shot such films as Camelot, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Body Heat and the 1976 remake of King Kong, has died. He was 91.
Kline died of natural causes on Tuesday in Los Angeles, his daughter Rija Kline Zucker told The Hollywood Reporter.
Kline collaborated with director Robert Wise on The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and partnered with Richard Fleischer on The Boston Strangler (1968), Soylent Green (1973), The Don Is Dead (1973), Mr. Majestyk (1974) and Mandingo (1975).
He worked on more than 40 features in all, also including Hang ‘Em High (1968), The Mechanic (1972), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), The Fury (1978), Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), The Competition (1980), Death Wish II (1982), Breathless (1983), All of Me (1984), Howard the Duck (1986) and his final film, Meet Wally Sparks (1997).
His father was cinematographer Benjamin H. Kline (Danger Street, Fireside Theatre, dozens of Westerns), and one of his uncles, Phil Rosen, co-founded the American Society of Cinematographers in 1919 and served as its first president.
“I’m actually the fourth member of my family to be a part of the ASC,” he said in an interview shortly after he was named the recipient of the society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. “My father was a member, and my other uncle, Sol Halperin, was also a president. I guess you could say I was genetically predestined to become a cameraman.”
Kline assisted and operated the camera on more than 200 films before becoming a director of photography in 1963. He earned his Oscar nominations for the lavish musical Camelot (1967) and for King Kong.
Based on the hit Broadway musical, Camelot, directed by Josh Logan, was shot on location in Spain and on huge sets built on the Warner Bros. lot. In one of his toughest challenges, Klein figured out how to light a wedding scene between Arthur (Richard Harris) and Guenevere (Vanessa Redgrave) that featured more than 1,000 candles.
The finale of King Kong, meanwhile, was filmed at the foot of the Twin Towers in New York with some 30,000 people on the scene to see the giant ape hit the pavement.
“There was an excitement in the air,” Kline said in the ASC interview. “It became very difficult to control the crowd at the end, and they literally tore [animatronics expert Carlo] Rambaldi’s Kong apart. They wanted souvenirs, and someone even stole his eyes, which were the size of bowling balls.”
Born in Los Angeles on Nov. 15, 1926, Kline, with the help of his dad, landed a job in the camera department at Columbia Pictures after he graduated from high school in 1943. He worked as a slate boy on Cover Girl (1944), starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly.
After a stint in the U.S. Navy from 1944-46, he assisted cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. on The Lady From Shanghai (1947), written and directed by Orson Welles, who also starred in the pic. He then manned the camera on Three Stooges shorts and on such films as Around the World in 80 Days (1956), A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).
Kline learned that to light a room, “I’d always start with the windows as my source and then marry the rest [of my approach] to them,” he said. “You have to start with the basics and then see where they lead.”
Kline became a cinematographer in 1963 when he was hired for the MGM-NBC drama series Mr. Novak, starring James Franciscus as a high-school teacher. He worked on that show for its two seasons, then shot the 1966 pilot for NBC’s The Monkees.
His first feature was a failed TV pilot that was turned into Chamber of Horrors (1966), directed by Hy Averback.
Though the noirish Body Heat (1981), directed by Lawrence Kasdan, was set during a steamy Florida summer, Klein noted that it was actually filmed during one of the coldest winters the state ever had.
“There’s a scene where William Hurt is just in his skivvies out on the back deck of a house, and it was freezing cold. Goosebumps were our biggest problem,” he said.
Survivors also include his son Paul and four grandchildren.
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