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Joseph Biroc
Joseph Francis Biroc

(1903-02-12)February 12, 1903
New York City, U.S.
DiedSeptember 7, 1996(1996-09-07) (aged 93)
Years active1927–1989

Joseph Francis Biroc, ASC (February 12, 1903 – September 7, 1996) was an American cinematographer. He was born in New York City and began working in films at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After working there for approximately six years, he moved to Los Angeles. Once in Southern California, Biroc worked at the RKO Pictures movie studio. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and filmed the Liberation of Paris in August 1944. In 1950, Biroc left RKO Pictures and freelanced on projects at various studios. In addition to his film work, which included It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), Biroc worked on various television series, including the Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman. He frequently collaborated with film director Robert Aldrich.

Biroc won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for The Towering Inferno (1974), which he shared with Fred J. Koenekamp, and two Primetime Emmy Awards, one for the TV movie Brian's Song and one for the series Casablanca.[citation needed]

Early life

Joseph Francis Biroc was born on February 12, 1903, in New York City, New York.[1] He developed a passion about film in his childhood.[2] He saw his "first movie in 1910 on a vacant lot five blocks from his home" and knew from then he wanted to spend the rest of his life making movies.[3]


At the age of fifteen, with his uncle's help, Biroc began his career in film as a film lab technician with Paragon Labs in Fort Lee, New Jersey in 1918. The apprenticeship marked the beginning of a series of jobs at numerous laboratories for Biroc – which was then a required step for aspiring cinematographers.[4]

Two years later, he started working at Craftsman Labs in New York from 1920 to 1923 and shortly for Goldwyn Pictures in Culver City, California in 1923. After his time at Goldwyn Pictures, Biroc returned to New York and took a job as film printer for Famous Players–Lasky, where he was shortly after promoted to assistant cameraman. After Famous Players–Lasky shut down in 1927, Biroc moved to Los Angeles to work for United Artists prior to moving to RKO to work as a camera operator. Biroc started at RKO by serving as assistant to cinematographers Leo Tover, Robert De Grasse, and Edward Cronjager. During his time at RKO, Biroc worked on Cimarron (1931), Swing Time (1936), and Shall We Dance (1937). He also worked on A Woman Rebels (1936), Sylvia Scarlett (1935), and Five Came Back (1939)[2] (among others), but received no screen credit as RKO hardly credited camera operators. His last work before World War II was for Bombardier (1943).

In 1943, Biroc began his career as a motion picture cameraman in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Two years later, he filmed the brutalities at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany while serving as captain of the sixth detachment alongside George Stevens's Special Motion Picture Coverage Unit. The end of the war marked a significant period in Biroc's life as he achieved the rank of captain and eventually, the rank of major. He also obtained his first credit as cinematographer for It's A Wonderful Life (1946). Following this, Biroc “served as cinematographer for the first 3-D American feature length film in color” titled Bwana Devil (1952).

In 1952, Biroc began his association with producer-director Robert Aldrich, starting with shooting an episode of The Doctor and moving onto films such as Attack (1956), World for Ransom (1954), Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte for which Biroc received his first Oscar nomination, The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), and The Longest Yard (1974). Biroc also “shot film for network television early on, such as musical shorts featuring Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong"[2] – a feat considered rare for cameramen during the time period. During the majority of the 1950s, Biroc focused on television – both black and white and color. Biroc concluded his career in the 1970s and 1980s with work on television movies, specials, and miniseries.[citation needed]


It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Biroc worked alongside four-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Joseph Walker in filming It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and achieved his first on-screen credit for his contribution.[2]

Bwana Devil (1952)

Biroc was the cinematographer for the first feature-length 3-D color film in history, Bwana Devil (1952). He writes in an article for the American Cinematographer, “while other 3-D systems have employed dual cameras, none have pursued the theory that the 3-D cameras should see and record the scene exactly as the human eyes see it.” (336, August 1952). He goes on to explain how Natural Vision, the corporation he worked with, provided a different experience with 3-D pictures as it induced no eye strain.[5]

Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977)

Biroc wrote an article for American Cinematographer where he explained the process behind filming the series Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977). In the article he mentions how the producers of the movie wanted the sets to look like actual locations, so each set had to have a big ceiling on it. He also mentions how he achieved a widespread shot for a scene – “we used a hospital chair as a dolly…we put a board across the handles of the wheelchair and the camera operator sat on the board.”[6]

Hammett (1982)

Biroc worked with director Wim Wenders and producers Fred Roos, Ronald Colby, and Don Guest to achieve a classic lighting look for Hammett (1982). He stated in an interview with Richard Patterson for American Cinematographer, “Actually the way I photograph is the way they photographed 40, 50, 60, 80 years ago. It's just basic lighting and basic photography.”[7]

Personal life

Biroc “was survived by one sister, Agnes Kronmeyer [who passed away in 2017] of Cranford, NJ, and four grandchildren.”[3]



Year Title Director Notes
1929 The Rescue Herbert Brenon Co-cinematographer with George Barnes & James Wong Howe
1943 Bombardier Richard Wallace
1946 It's a Wonderful Life Frank Capra
1947 Magic Town William A. Wellman
1948 On Our Merry Way Leslie Fenton
King Vidor
My Dear Secretary Charles Martin
1949 Roughshod Mark Robson
Johnny Allegro Ted Tetzlaff
Mrs. Mike Louis King
1950 The Killer That Stalked New York Earl McEvoy
1951 Cry Danger Robert Parrish
The Bushwhackers Rod Amateau
All That I Have William F. Claxton
1952 Red Planet Mars Harry Horner
Bwana Devil Arch Oboler
Loan Shark Seymour Friedman
Without Warning! Arnold Laven
1953 The Tall Texan Elmo Williams
The Glass Wall Maxwell Shane
The Twonky Arch Oboler
Vice Squad Arnold Laven
Donovan's Brain Felix E. Feist
1954 World for Ransom Robert Aldrich
Down Three Dark Streets Arnold Laven
1956 Nightmare Maxwell Shane
Attack Robert Aldrich
Tension at Table Rock Charles Marquis Warren
1957 Run of the Arrow Samuel Fuller
Forty Guns Samuel Fuller
The Amazing Colossal Man Bert I. Gordon
1959 The Bat Crane Wilbur
The FBI Story Mervyn LeRoy
1960 13 Ghosts William Castle
1961 The Devil at 4 O'Clock Mervyn LeRoy
Gold of Seven Saints Gordon Douglas
1963 Under the Yum Yum Tree David Swift
Toys In The Attic George Roy Hill
Bye Bye Birdie George Sidney
Gunfight at Comanche Creek Frank McDonald
1964 Ride the Wild Surf Don Taylor
Kitten with a Whip Douglas Heyes
1964 Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte Robert Aldrich Nominated- Academy Award for Best Cinematography
Viva Las Vegas George Sidney
1965 The Flight of the Phoenix Robert Aldrich
I Saw What You Did William Castle
1967 Enter Laughing Carl Reiner
Tony Rome Gordon Douglas
Fitzwilly Delbert Mann
1968 The Killing of Sister George Robert Aldrich
The Detective Gordon Douglas
The Legend of Lylah Clare Robert Aldrich
What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? Lee H. Katzin
1970 Too Late the Hero Robert Aldrich
Mrs. Pollifax-Spy Leslie H. Martinson
1971 Escape from the Planet of the Apes Don Taylor
The Grissom Gang Robert Aldrich
1972 Ulzana's Raid
Emperor of the North Pole
1973 Cahill U.S. Marshal Andrew V. McLaglen
1974 Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks
The Towering Inferno John Guillermin Co-cinematographer with Fred J. Koenekamp

Academy Award for Best Cinematography

The Longest Yard Robert Aldrich
Shanks William Castle
1975 Hustle Robert Aldrich
1977 The Choirboys
1978 Little Women David Lowell Rich
A Family Upside Down
1979 Beyond the Poseidon Adventure Irwin Allen
1980 Airplane! Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
1981 ...All the Marbles Robert Aldrich
1982 Hammett Wim Wenders Co-cinematographer with Philip H. Lathrop
Airplane II: The Sequel Ken Finkleman


Year Title Notes
1950 Dick Tracy 5 episodes
1952 China Smith Episode: "Straight Settlement"
Four Star Playhouse Episode: "The Officer and the Lady"
1953 I'm the Law 14 episodes
1954 The Mickey Rooney Show 5 episodes
Dear Phoebe Episode: "The Christmas Show"
The Lone Wolf 3 episodes
Police Call Episode: "Montreal"
1954-55 Treasury Men in Action 12 episodes
1955 The Man Behind the Badge Episode: "The Case of the Hunted Hobo"
My Friend Flicka Episode: "The Stranger"
Screen Directors Playhouse Episode: "The Final Tribute"
1955-56 TV Reader's Digest 3 episodes
1956 General Electric Summer Originals Episode: "It's Sunny Again"
1956-58 Adventures of Superman 26 episodes
1957 General Electric Theater Episode: "Mr. Kensington's Finest Hour"
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Episode: "Silent Witness"
1957-58 Playhouse 90 3 episodes
1958 The Thin Man Episode: "Unlucky Lucky Numbers"
Hey, Jeannie! Episode: "The Landlord"
Alcoa Theatre 2 episodes
1959 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre Episode: "Checkmate"
Richard Diamond, Private Detective 4 episodes
The David Niven Show Episode: "The Twist of the Key"
The Detectives Episode: "The Streger Affair"
1959-60 Hotel de Paree 2 episodes
1960 The DuPont Show with June Allyson Episode: "Escape"
Goodyear Theatre Episode: "Author at Work"
1960-61 Checkmate 3 episodes
1962-63 Empire 4 episodes
1964 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Episode: "The Vulcan Affair"
1972 Ghost Story Episode: "The New House"
1976 The Moneychangers Miniseries

Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie

1977 Washington: Behind Closed Doors
1978 Little Women
1980 Scruples Miniseries
1983 Casablanca 5 episodes

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series

1985 A Death in California Miniseries

Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie

Hell Town Episode: "Father of Hell Town"

Television films

Year Title Notes
1956 Cavalry Patrol Failed pilot
1958 The Adventures of Superpup
1971 Brian's Song Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie
1972 Gidget Gets Married
The Crooked Hearts
1974 Wonder Woman Failed pilot
Honky Tonk
Thursday's Game
1977 SST: Death Flight
1978 A Family Upside Down Nominated- Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie
The Clone Master
1980 Kenny Rogers as The Gambler
1982 Desperate Lives
1984 The Jerk, Too
1986 Outrage!
A Winner Never Quits
1987 Time Out for Dad


Awards and nominations

Bibliography and further reading


  1. ^ a b "JOSEPH F. BIROC". Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  2. ^ a b c d "Special Collections". Margaret Herrick Library. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Archived from the original on October 2, 2014. Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  3. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Joseph Biroc". American Cinematographer: 112. 1996.
  4. ^ "Joseph F. Biroc, ASC (1903-1996)". Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  5. ^ "Hollywood Launches 3-D Film Production". American Cinematographer: 336–340. 1952.
  6. ^ "Photographing Washington: Behind Closed Doors". American Cinematographer. 1977.
  7. ^ "Classic Lighting for Hammett". American Cinematographer: 1168–1169. 1982.
  8. ^ "Nominees/Winners". Television Academy. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  9. ^ "Index to Motion Picture Credits - Joseph Biroc". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 2016-11-27. Retrieved 23 November 2016.