Oswald Morris, Oscar-winning cinematographer, dies at 98

March 21

Oswald Morris, a renowned British cinematographer who won an Academy Award for the 1971 musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and was known for his innovative color work on films such as John Huston’s 1952 “Moulin Rouge,” died March 17 at his home in Fontmell Magna, England. He was 98.

The British Society of Cinematographers announced his death but did cite a cause.

Mr. Morris, who entered the film industry as a teenager in the 1930s, was cinematographer on dozens of movies and worked with directors who included Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kubrick, Carol Reed, Tony Richardson and Franco Zeffirelli.

Among his films were “Look Back in Anger,” “The Guns of Navarone,” “Lolita,” “The Hill,” “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Scrooge,” “Sleuth,” “Equus,” “The Wiz” and “The Great Muppet Caper.”

Mr. Morris was director of photography on eight films with Huston, including “Moulin Rouge,” “Beat the Devil,” “Moby Dick,” “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” and “The Man Who Would Be King.”

In addition to winning an Oscar for his work on director Norman Jewison’s “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1972, Mr. Morris received Oscar nominations in 1969 for Reed’s “Oliver!” and in 1979 for Lumet’s “The Wiz.”

He also won three best cinematography awards (for “The Pumpkin Eater,” “The Hill” and “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”) from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in the 1960s.

Mr. Morris once described his Oscar-winning work on “Fiddler on the Roof” — he shot the film with a silk stocking over the lens to create the sepia effect he wanted — as “a cameraman’s dream because it had everything a cameraman could wish for.”

“In the seasons, we have winter with rain, winter with dull weather, winter with snow. We have dawns, sunrises, hot summer days, cold winter days, sunsets and nights,” he said. “Now, I can’t think of anything, except possibly a storm, that one couldn’t have put in this film from a photographic point of view.”

Mr. Morris faced a major challenge when he shot “Moulin Rouge,” Huston’s biopic of Toulouse-Lautrec: Huston wanted the movie to look as though the French artist had directed it.

In so doing, Mr. Morris raised the ire of Technicolor officials in London.

“ ‘Moulin Rouge’ broke every rule in the book,” he told Daily Variety in 2000. “We used very strong, light-scattering filters on the camera, which had never been used before, and we also filmed every set full of smoke so that the actors always stood out from the background.”

Once the film was released and began receiving critical praise, Mr. Morris said, “The head of Technicolor in America wrote to Technicolor in London congratulating them on the wonderful colors in the film. No mention of me, but I suppose that’s just the way it goes.”

Mr. Morris titled his 2006 autobiography “Huston, We Have a Problem,” a playful reference to his work with the famous director.

Oswald Morris was born Nov. 22, 1915, in Ruislip, a village outside London. He landed an unpaid apprenticeship at Wembley Studios in 1932, when he was 16.

He was a Royal Air Force bomber pilot during World War II. After the war, he resumed his movie career and was camera operator on films such as David Lean’s 1948 production of “Oliver Twist.”

His two wives predeceased him. His brother, the late Reginald H. Morris, also became a cinematographer. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

Oswald Morris believed much of his success came from appreciating stars’ egos and insecurities, he once told the Sunday Express.

“I was very good at asking actresses if they had any hang-ups about their appearance,” he said. “Even if it’s a character part, everyone wants to look good. You have to keep people calm.”

Jennifer Jones, whom he had “the dubious pleasure of photographing on various films, would get terribly neurotic, especially if [her husband] David O. Selznick was producing. But I discovered she liked boiled sweets” — hard candies — “and I’d have a bag on hand so I could offer her one after a scene. It would change her completely.”

He had no difficulties working with the female star of director Jim Henson’s 1981 film “The Great Muppet Caper.”

“When I first worked with [Henson], he said: ‘I think of Kermit [the frog] as my leading man and Miss Piggy as my leading lady. Will you photograph them like that?’ So I lit Miss Piggy just as if she was Greta Garbo or Sophia Loren,” Mr. Morris said.

— Los Angeles Times

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