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American Cinematographer (1995) - In Memoriam: Philip H. Lathrop, ASC




Philip H. Lathrop, ASC, who was honored with the 1992 ASC Lifetime Achievement Award, died of cancer on April 12, 1995. The award was particularly appropriate in that Lathrop spent most of his life in the movie studios. Born in Merced, California, his playground as a child was the Universal lot, where his mother was employed in the film lab. He became a member of the camera department there when he was 18. He recalled watching Gilbert Warrenton, ASC photograph the first version of Show Boat in 1928-29. Lathrop loaded cameras for John Mescall, ASC on the 1936 version.

In 1938 he became assistant to Joseph A. Valentine, ASC, Universal's top-ranking cinematographer. With Valentine he worked on the Deanna Durbin pictures; two Alfred Hitchcock classics, Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt; and The Wolf Man. He later became an operator for Russell Metty, ASC for nine years, culminating in the intricacies of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil in 1957.

Lathrop became a director of photography at Universal in 1958, when he shot a series of 50 one-reel films at Walter Lantz Studio. His first feature that year was The Perfect Furlough, in CinemaScope and Eastman Color, with Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. The color negative at that time had an ASA rating of 25 and required 800 to 1,000 foot candles of key light for proper exposure. The director was Blake Edwards, for whom he later photographed Experiment in Terror, Days of Wine and Hoses and The Pink Panther.

Late in 1959 he also started working with Edwards in television, beginning auspiciously with one of the most influential series of the era, Peter Gunn. Lathrop's moody black & white images and Henry Mancini's jazz score merged memorably. He photographed the first 36 episodes of another collaboration with Edwards and Mancini, Mr. Lucky. Next he filmed Hong Kong, one of the earliest hour-long series in TV.

In 1961 Lathrop was in New Mexico's Sandia Mountains photographing Lonely Are the Brave, an early example of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio using the new Panavision lenses. The black & white drama, now considered a classic, was filmed at high altitudes, which made oxygen masks necessary for the cast and crew.

Lathrop rated Point Blank, directed by John Boorman in 1967, as his most unusual picture. Color charts were prepared for every scene, and color was subdued and sometimes desaturated in contrast to other scenes with strong but never garish colors. He followed with another unusual color film, Finian's Rainbow, directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

A career highlight was Earthquake, directed by Mark Robson, whom Lathrop said "was able to get everyone around him excited about the film." Most of the remarkable They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, directed by Sidney Pollack, was filmed on a huge dance hall set on Stage 4 at Warner Bros., yet it is highly praised for its realism. Lathrop began The Cincinnati Kid in black & white with Sam Peckinpah; after the studio fired Peckinpah and relative newcomer Norman Jewison took over, Lathrop convinced the producers to switch to color film but keep the colors subdued. He smoked the sets (many years before this became the vogue) and had Harrison & Harrison create a set of low-contrast filters which are still in use.

Among Lathrop's 65 theatrical feature credits as a director of photography are The Saga of Hemp Brown; What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?; I Love You, Alice B. Toklas; The Illustrated Man; The Gypsy Moths; The Hawaiians; Portnoy's Complaint; The Hussians are Coming, the Russians are Coming; Mame; The Driver; Hammett; The Killer Elite; Class Reunion and Deadly Friend. He received Oscar nominations for The Americanization of Emily and Earthquake.

During the 1980s he also made eight television movies-of-the-week and several mini-series. He won Emmys for Malice in Wonderland and Christmas Snow and was nominated for Celebrity, Picking Up the Pieces and Little Girl Lost. Christmas Snowand Little Girl Lost garnered ASC Awards as well. "I shoot them like features," he said. "I think of them as hundred-page movies. The main difference is that you don't work as long. That way I can keep my hand in without spending 60 to 70 days on a film."

Phil Lathrop was a long-time member of the ASC Board of Directors and was co-chairman with Bud Stone of the ASC Awards committee. His many contributions to the annual awards event included supervising the lighting of the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. Lathrop was also active in the affairs of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

He is survived by his wife, Betty Jo; three sons, Larry, Bill and Clark; and his sister, Hazel Morris of Burbank. Services were held at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, with the Reverend Robert M. Bock of the First Christian Church of North Hollywood presiding, and Masonic service by Harold Morris. Stanley Cortez, ASC delivered the eulogy.

A memorial tribute at the ASC Clubhouse on Saturday, April 22 featured a reprise of Cortez's eulogy and fond reminiscences of Lathrop's positive influence on all those he encountered.