American Cinematographer - June 2018 - 132

IN MEMORIAM
Emmy-winning cinematographer
Ralph A. Woolsey, the oldest living member
of the ASC, died on March 23 at the Motion
Picture & Television Country House and
Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif., at the age
of 104. A consummate technician whose
Hollywood career paralleled the birth and
early evolution of television cinematography,
including the transition from black-andwhite to color, Woolsey shot such series as
Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, Batman and
Mister Roberts.
Born in Oregon on Jan. 1, 1914, to
an American father and a German mother,
Woolsey was raised in the Pacific Northwest
and in Shakopee, Minn. The first movies he
saw were silent, and although Saturday
Westerns were a favorite, the budding piano
student was more intrigued by the theater's
Wurlitzer organ than he was by the images
on the screen. It was actually a love of bird
watching and nature that inspired him to
learn photography, which he took up in high
school.
After graduating, he moved to Fargo,
N.D., and spent several years working for
Ford Motor Co. and moonlighting for a local
photographer. He returned to Minneapolis
and enrolled at the University of Minnesota,
intent on becoming a zoologist. He later told
AC that he was also attracted by the school's
photo lab, which was "staffed by professionals who did every conceivable kind of
photography." Soon Woolsey was making
conservation films for the state of Minnesota
and industrials for Bell Aircraft; some of the
latter were used to train U.S. Air Force
personnel during World War II.
Woolsey moved to Los Angeles after
the war, landing jobs at Technicolor and at
Photo Research Corp., where company
founder Karl Freund, ASC was developing
specialized light meters. He connected with
ASC members Leon Shamroy, Joe Walker
and Arthur Miller, among others, and it was
Miller who eventually proposed Woolsey for
ASC membership. By the time Woolsey was
invited to join the ASC, on Sept. 10, 1956,
he was also an educator; Slavko Vorkapich
132

June 2018

had recruited him to teach cinematography
at the University of Southern California in
1950, and Woolsey did this for seven years,
shooting small projects on the side.
In 1957, Woolsey got a call to fill in
for a cinematographer who had fallen ill just
as Warner Bros. was about to begin production on the new TV series Maverick, starring
James Garner. With access to studio
resources and seasoned crew for the first
time, Woolsey jumped right in, and the
craft and speed he had honed as a freelancer paid off immediately. A few days into
the shoot, Warner Bros. offered him a fiveyear contract. In 1959, Maverick also
brought him his first Emmy nomination.
In a wide-ranging conversation with
The Classic TV History Blog about his career,
which included shows at Warner Bros., Fox
and Universal, Woolsey discussed the learning curve the new medium presented on
studio lots: "[At first] we were using feature
sets, which actually made some of the very
first shows look fantastic. On the other
hand, you paid a price because it took
longer to work with those sets - they were
more elaborate, took more lighting .... And
we had crews who had been working on
pictures for years, so sometimes they would
American Cinematographer

tend to be a little too fancy or elaborate for
a television show. In other words, you had to
say, 'Forget the frosting on the cake, and
let's take care of the meat and potatoes
first.'"
Woolsey received his second Emmy
nomination in 1960, for 77 Sunset Strip,
and he won an Emmy for the pilot episode
of It Takes a Thief in 1968.
He transitioned to shooting features
in the 1970s, and as his career flourished, he
continued to teach when his schedule
permitted. For an American Film Institute
seminar in 1977, he discussed one of his
more unusual features, a 1973 adaptation
of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh
directed by John Frankenheimer. (Excerpts
from the seminar were published in AC in
February and March '78.) Confronted with a
four-hour dialogue-heavy drama that
unfolds in two rooms over the course of a
single night, Frankenheimer and Woolsey
understood that wider angles and a variety
of unobtrusive camera moves would be
vital. "[We knew] we must never lose sight
of the geography at any time," the cinematographer said. "We also wanted to
keep the camera setups interesting and
keep repositioning the camera according to
the way the play progressed."
The cinematographer's other feature
credits include The Culpepper Cattle Co.;
The New Centurions; Mother, Jugs & Speed;
The Mack; The Last Married Couple in
America; Oh, God! Book II; and The Great
Santini.
He served as president of the ASC in
1983, and he was honored with the ASC
Presidents Award in 2003 (AC Jan. '03).
Woolsey is survived by his sons James,
Richard and Robert.
- Rachael K. Bosley
For an extended version of this article, visit theasc.com/news/in-memoriamralph-a-woolsey-asc.
‚óŹ

Photo by Owen Roizman, ASC.

Ralph Woolsey, ASC, 1914-2018


http://www.theasc.com/news/in-memoriam-ralph-a-woolsey-asc http://www.theasc.com/news/in-memoriam-ralph-a-woolsey-asc

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - June 2018

Contents
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Intro
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - 1
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - 2
American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Contents
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American Cinematographer - June 2018 - Cover3
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