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American Cinematographer (1993) - In Memoriam: Ellsworth Fredericks




Ellsworth Fredericks, ASC, the distinguished cinematographer whose work included such classics as Sayonara and Friendly Pursuasion as well as the remarkable "cult" film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, died on Tuesday, August 17, at the age of 89. He had been an ASC member since 1954. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, a daughter, Mrs. Brian Herdeg, two grandchildren and three great‑grandchildren.

Fredericks was born in New York City on February 6, 1904. In 1927, at the First National Studios in Burbank, he became an assistant cameraman to John Seitz, the first of the many ASC directors of photography with whom he would work during the ensuing 25 years. Working also with Hal Mohr, Ernest Haller, Arthur Edeson, Ted McCord and Merritt Gerstad on numerous pictures, he remained at the studio after it was purchased by Warner Bros. in 1929. He also worked as a special effects assistant cameraman with Hans Koenekamp, Fred Jackman and Edwin DuPar. During part of 1930 he worked for Arthur Miller at Pathé.

Fredericks became a camera operator in 1933 when he was hired by John Arnold, head of the camera department at Metro‑Goldwyn‑Mayer. He operated for Ray June, William Daniels, George Folsey, Oliver Marsh, Clyde DeVinna, Karl Freund and Harold Lipstein until 1940, when he returned to Warner Bros. During 1943‑44 he served as a Major in the U. S. Army as official cinematographer for President Roosevelt. Upon mustering out he rejoined Warner Bros.

On February 1, 1952, MCA's Revue Productions, then headquartered at Republic Studios, appointed him as a director of photography. His credits there include segments of General Electric Theatre, Lux Playhouse of Stars, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Suspicion, The Deputy, Alcoa Theatre, and others. Dividing his time between television drama and theatrical features, he was one of the busiest cinematographers in Hollywood. Much of his early feature work was for Allied Artists, where in four years he photographed The Bob Mathias Story, Seven Angry Men, The Blond Dog, Shotgun (in Technicolor), Bobby Ware is Missing, At Gunpoint (CinemaScope, Technicolor), Sudden Danger, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (SuperScope), World Without End (CinemaScope, Technicolor), Hold Back the Night, Canyon River (CinemaScope, Deluxe Color), The Young Guns, Friendly Persuasion (Deluxe) and Last of the Badmen (CinemaScope, Deluxe). He concluded 1957 with the United Artists releases Trooper Hook and Buckskin Lady, and with Warner Bros.' Technicolor special Sayonara, for which he received an Academy nomination.

Disney's The Light in the Forest (in Technicolor) and Paramount's Maracaibo (in VistaVision and Technicolor) followed in 1958. He made more TV dramas for Revue until 1960, when he returned to features with Warners' Tall Story. During the next nine years he worked only on features, including the Twentieth Century‑Fox CinemaScope pictures Wild River, High Time, Sanctuary and Margie, as well as Escape for Zahrain (Paramount), The Young Lovers (MGM), Joy in the Morning (MGM), The Pad (and How to Use It)(Universal), Picture Mommy Dead(Gordon), The Last Challenge (MGM, Panavision), The Power (George Pal/MGM, Panavision), and Universal's artistic Eye of the Cat, co‑photographed by Russell Metty, ASC.

Fredericks retired in 1969, moved to Lake San Marcos, California, and thereafter devoted much of his time to golf. His career had encompassed silent pictures, the transition to the Vitaphone and then to sound on film, the rigors of working with three‑strip Technicolor, the rise of television, the emergence of monopack and color negative, the gradual escalation of color movies to a position of dominance over black & white, the burgeoning of anamorphic films, VistaVision, and the realization of color television.