Today marks the 118th anniversary of James Wong Howe, a man known to stand against the odds. No, he was not a freedom fighter who fought a physical fight with the oppressors instead he led a silent struggle in his own powerful way. He started as a boxer but ended up winning two Oscars in an industry that wasn’t too kind to outsiders. Howe died on July 12, 1976 and was buried at Pierce Bros. Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. To honour him, Google has dedicated its today’s Google Doodle to him.
More about James Wong Howe
James Wong Howe was a Chinese-American cinematographer, who immigrated to America at the age of five. After his father’s death, Howe moved to Oregon, where he boxed professionally but soon lost interest. He then considered a career in aviation and to fulfill that he moved to San Francisco Bay Area. Finding it difficult to finance his training, he started doing odd jobs, including working as a delivery boy for a photographer.
How did it happen?
His introduction to photography was almost accidental. While working as a delivery boy, Howe approached cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff and managed to get a low level job at the Famous Players-Lasky. Soon after, he was called as a extra clapper boy on the sets of The Little American. It was there that film director Cecil B. DeMille noticed Howe. The director was amused by the sight of an Asian man, smoking a cigar, while holding a slate. Later DeMille launched Howe as a camera assistant.
From then on there was no looking back. Howe, throughout his career, used unique techniques to enhance the look of his work. He is known to accidentally discover using dark backdrops and giving a coloured effect to black and white movies.
However, he was trying to make a name in a world that wasn’t very kind. He faced discrimination in his private life and only became a US citizen after the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act. But talent triumphed over all odds. Regardless of all the difficulties he faced, Howe worked on over 130 films and was known as the master of shadow effects and deep focus. He was nominated for over ten Academy Awards and retired with two Oscar Awards. As they say, all’s well that ends well, so was the case of James Wong Howe.