#1: Photo by Owen Roizman

#2: [Left] with dir Richard Benjamin [2007] - photo by William Kallay

#3: [Black shirt] with dir Robert Clouse [left/cap] [1975]





Born: 25 April 1921, New York City, N.Y., USA, as Gerald J. Hirschfeld.

Died: 13 February 2017, Ashland, Oregon, USA.

Education: Columbia University, New York City.

Career: '[Gerald] Hirschfeld developed an early interest in photography. "My sister gave me a home developing kit, so I started making my own pictures," he says. With her help, he later began working as an assistant to a still photographer in the fashion industry. In early 1942, Hirschfeld enlisted in the Army. He was originally selected to serve in a radar-surveillance unit, but was later transferred to the Signal Corps Photographic Center [Army Pictorial Center] in Astoria, Long Island, N.Y. There he learned the craft of cinematography while working on training films and short entertainment movies for the troops, serving alongside ph Leo Tover and Stanley Cortez. "I entered the service as a still photographer and came out a cinematographer." Tover became Hirschfeld's mentor. "I started out carrying batteries and keeping the camera reports as a second assistant," he says. "Then, after working for Leo on a few pictures, I became a camera operator. I think he appreciated the fact that I really cared - I practiced operating every moment I could." During the war, Hirschfeld went on assignment to Hollywood and Okinawa. After his discharge, he continued to do work for the Signal Corps while shooting freelance commercials. Hirschfeld earned his first feature credit with the low-budget crime film 'C-Man', directed by Joseph Lerner. He and Lerner re-teamed for the equally hard-boiled 'Guilty Bystander'. "And I never looked back," says Hirschfeld. In 1955, it seemed his career was about to change dramatically, as he was offered the opportunity to shoot '12 Angry Men' for Sidney Lumet. "It was the week before the Academy Awards, but then Boris Kaufman won the Oscar for 'On the Waterfront', and the powers-that-be on '12 Angry Men' asked, 'Why are we hiring Gerald Hirschfeld when we can hire the Academy Award winner?' It so upset me that I said, 'To hell with features.'" Disappointed, Hirschfeld concentrated on commercials. "I started working at MPO Videotronics, Inc. as a freelancer, and they liked my work. We had limited equipment and were often working in available light. I was soon the busiest freelance cameraman in New York City." MPO soon made Hirschfeld a vice president [1965-72]. "We built six soundstages in the middle of Manhattan in the middle of the ad agencies," he recalls. "We had probably a dozen full-time camera crews and the best film facility in which to explore new techniques." In 1963, Lumet hired Hirschfeld to shoot 'Fail-Safe'. "I liked working with Sidney. He came from TV, and he knew how he was going to cut the film and put it together, because in live TV you do that on the spot. He could tell me that he wanted to dolly from here to there with a 50mm lens. I was to do the lighting and he would design the shots." One of Hirschfeld's first Hollywood features was Mel Brooks' comedy 'Young Frankenstein', which stars Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. "Mel and Gene arranged for me to screen the original 'Frankenstein' and 'Bride of Frankenstein' to remind me of their look. The problem was how to re-create that look with different lenses, different film stocks and different lights than they had used in 1932. At the end of the first week of shooting, Mel and Gene told me they were not happy with the look. I said, 'What are you talking about? You showed me 'Frankenstein' and 'Bride of Frankenstein', and that's what I'm giving you.' Mel said, 'That's not what we want. We want to satirize that look. We want it to be more than that.' I told them I would try several things that night, and the next day they could tell me which they liked best." Specifically, Hirschfeld further exaggerated the backlight and dispensed with midtones through forced processing to help create high-contrast hilarity. "At the next day's dailies, they said, 'This is more like it!'" [From article by David E. Williams in 'American Cinematographer', 2007.]

Ph & dir numerous commercials. Ph doc's.

Directed 6 ep of the 13-part tv-series 'Mr. Smith' [1983].

Started teaching cinematography pretty early on at the Brooklyn Institute of Photography, taught 'Basic Cinematography' at the Southern Oregon University in Ashland, and, for 5 years, 'Film Technique & Lighting' at the International Film & Television Workshops in Rockport, Maine.

The Ashland Independent FF has named its 'Best Cinematography Award' after Hirschfeld.

Was a member of the ASC since 1951.

Was married [1982-2017] to script supervisor Julia Tucker. His son Alec is a c.op & doph.

Co-wrote the books 'Image Control: Motion Picture and Video Camera Filters and Lab Techniques' [1992] & 'The Hand Exposure Meter Book' [2001].

Appeared in the doc 'Making Frankensense of 'Young Frankenstein'' [1996, Patrick Cousans; ph: Fred Martin], the doc tv-special 'Young Frankenstein - Building the Perfect Beast' [1999] and in ep #417 of the Oregon Public Broadcasting tv-series 'Oregon Art Beat' [2003]. 

Awards: CableACE Award nom [1990] for 'The Neon Empire'; Ashland Independent FF 'Lifetime Achievement Award' [2004]; ASC President's Award [2007].


Technically, the highspot of Gerald Hirschfeld's career so far is probably his extraordinary reproduction of the Universal Horror look in 'Young Frankenstein'. His other credits indicate a deftness in location shooting, particularly in the urban crime genre ['Cotton Comes to Harlem', 'The Gravy Train'] as well as the ability to make a film's budget appear larger than it actually was ['The Car', 'The Ultimate Warrior']. [Bob Baker in 'Film Dope', #24, March 1982.]

Obituary: Gerald Hirschfeld, the veteran cinematographer who shot the films 'Fail-Safe' and 'Young Frankenstein' in beautiful black and white, died February 13 of natural causes at his home in Ashland, Ore., a family spokesman said. He was 95.

Hirschfeld was the American Society of Cinematographers' most senior member, having joined the organization in 1951, and he received its prestigious Presidents Award in 2007.

Hirschfeld's first major assignment came for director Sidney Lumet on the taut Cold War drama 'Fail-Safe', and he brilliantly captured the look of the Universal monster movies of the 1930s with Mel Brooks' 'Young Frankenstein' - despite nearly getting fired.

In a 2006 interview with American Cinematographer magazine, Hirschfeld described how it took some time to get the look that writer-director Brooks and writer-star Gene Wilder desired on 'Young Frankenstein': "Mel and Gene Wilder arranged for me to watch a screening of the original 'Frankenstein' and 'Bride of Frankenstein' to remind me of the look of the originals. The problem to solve was re-creating that look with different lenses, different film stocks and different lights than they had used in 1932. At the end of the first week of shooting, they asked me to stay after dailies and told me they were not happy with the look. I asked, 'What are you talking about? You showed me 'Frankenstein' and 'Bride of Frankenstein', and that's what I'm giving you.' Mel said, 'That's not what we want. We want to satirize that look. We want it to be more than that.' I pointed out that nobody had told me that. Gene Wilder piped up and said, 'Mel, he's right, we never told him that.' I told them I would try several things that night, and tomorrow they could tell me which they liked best. At the next day's dailies, they said, 'Oh, this is more like it.' Then the next sequence came up and they said, 'Oh, this is even better.' Halfway through the picture, Mel said to me in the lunch line, 'Jerry, I'm glad I didn't fire you four weeks ago.' I thought to myself, 'Mel, you're lucky I didn't quit.'"

Born in New York on April 25, 1921, Hirschfeld enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 19 and shot training films for the Signal Corps Photographic Center, where he met and was mentored by Hollywood cinematographer Leo Tover.

Hirschfeld shot his first feature film, the film noir 'C-Man' [1949], in just 11 days, then worked on another crime drama directed by Joseph Lerner, 'Guilty Bystander'.

Survivors include his wife Julia Tucker [a script supervisor who worked with Hirschfeld on several films]; sons Marc, Eric, Burt and Alec [a camera operator]; and six grandchildren. [From obituary by Mike Barnes in 'The Hollywood Reporter', 2/20/2017]



Shades of Gray [Joseph Henabery] b&w; 67m; prod Signal Corps Photographic Center; a 40m version, 'Bright Future', was released in 1952


'C'-Man [Joseph Lerner] b&w; shot in 11 days


Guilty Bystander [Joseph Lerner] b&w; pfx: Hugo Casolaro & Milton Gottlieb


The Date [Marion Gering] b&w; mus short/12m


With These Hands [Jack Arnold] b&w; 52m; prod International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union


Mr. Universe [Joseph Lerner] b&w


Two Gals and a Guy/Baby and Me [Alfred E. Green] b&w


Working Together: A Case History of Labor-Management Cooperation [Victor Vicas] 16mm/b&w; doc/23m


The Impressionable Years: American Children and the Public Library [Peter Elgar] b&w; doc/40m


Girl on the Run/Josette from New Orleans [Joseph Lee (Joseph Lerner ?)] b&w; 65m; released in 1958


[Right] - "Fail-Safe"



Fail-Safe [Sidney Lumet] b&w


Dage i min fars hus/Days in My Father's House/The Whistle [David Nagata] c; prod in Denmark


The Incident [Larry Peerce] b&w


Goodbye, Columbus [Larry Peerce] c


Last Summer [Frank Perry] c


Some Kind of a Nut [Garson Kanin] c; cph: Burnett Guffey (1969 shooting period); spec pfx: Jerome Rosenfeld


Cotton Comes to Harlem [Ossie Davis] c; 2uc: Gil Geller


Mastermind [Alex March] c; released in 1976


[Right] with dir Frank Perry - "Diary of a Mad Housewife"



Diary of a Mad Housewife [Frank Perry] c


Doc [Frank Perry] c


T.R. Baskin/A Date with a Lonely Girl [Herbert Ross] c


Child's Play [Sidney Lumet] c


Two People [Robert Wise] c; ph New York scenes; ph: Henri Decaë


Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams [Gilbert Cates] c


W/I Want Her Dead/W is the Mark of Death/W - Terror is a One Letter Word [Richard Quine] c


The Gravy Train/The Dion Brothers [Jack Starrett] c




Young Frankenstein [Mel Brooks] b&w


The Ultimate Warrior/The Barony/The Last Warrior [Robert Clouse] c


Dragonfly/One Summer Love [Gilbert Cates] c


Psychic Killer/The Kirlian Effect/The Kirlian Force [Ray Danton] c; 2uc: Michael Mileham


Two-Minute Warning [Larry Peerce] p/c


The Car/Wheels/DeathMobile [Elliot Silverstein] p/c; spec vfx: Albert Whitlock


The World's Greatest Lover [Gene Wilder] p/c


Coma [Michael Crichton] c; ph Jefferson Institute seq; ph: Victor Kemper


Slow Dancing in the Big City [John G. Avildsen] c; ph Lincoln Center ballet seq; ph: Ralf D. Bode


The Bell Jar [Larry Peerce] c


Americathon [Neal Israel] c


Why Would I Lie? [Larry Peerce] c


Sunday Lovers/Les séducteurs/I seduttori della domenica [Edouard Molinaro, Bryan Forbes, Dino Risi & Gene Wilder] c; ph seg 'Skippy' dir by Gene Wilder; other ph: Claude Lecomte, Claude Agostini & Tonino Delli Colli


The House of God [Donald Wrye] c


Neighbors [John G. Avildsen] c; addph: Gil Geller


My Favorite Year [Richard Benjamin] c


To Be or Not to Be [Alan Johnson] c; vfx ph: Rexford Metz & Christopher Nibley


Belizaire the Cajun [Glen Pitre] c; cph (?); ph: Richard Bowen


Head Office [Ken Finkleman] p/c; 2uc: Larry Pall


Malone [Harley Cokliss] c; addph: Graeme Cowley; 2uc: Curtis Petersen; aph 2u: Bob Ennis




Johnny Jupiter [e.g. ep 'Duckweather and the Professor' & 'The Surprise Birthday Party' dir by Howard Magwood] children's series/b&w; 2nd season (ABC-tv), 1953-54 (1st season, 1953, aired live by DuMont-tv)


Mandrake the Magician [Will Jason] pilot/b&w/26m; for ABC-tv


The Gillmen [Dan Enright] pilot/b&w/26m; uwph: Jordan Klein


The Noise-Makers [?] pilot


The Affair/Love Song [Gilbert Cates] tvm; released theatrically outside USA


Shell Game [Glenn A. Jordan] pilot; for CBS-tv


King [Abby Mann] 3-part miniseries; addph; ph: Michael Chapman


Country Gold [Gilbert Cates] tvm


Love Lives On [Larry Peerce] tvm


The Neon Empire [Larry Peerce] 2-part tvm


Child in the Night [Mike Robe] tvm


Secret Sins of the Father/Lethal Intent [Beau Bridges] tvm