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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 22 August 1892Denver, Colorado, USA
Date of Death 1 August 1985Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Birth NameJoseph Bailey Walker

Mini Bio (1)

Frank Capra's favourite cinematographer began his working life as an electrical engineer who collaborated with Lee De Forest on building the first wireless transmitter. However, it was his interest in moving picture photography which led him to work in film laboratories, where his numerous pioneering inventions included the first lens adjustment mechanisms (zoom lenses), a camera and flash lamp synchronizing device, oblique image superimposition projection devices and a panoramic television camera. During World War I, Walker gained valuable hands-on experience filming aerial scenes, newsreels and other documentary footage, often for the Red Cross or Gaumont News. All the while, he continued to accumulate patents, such as the Double Exposure System and the Facial Make-Up Meter.

Once qualified as a lighting cameraman, Walker started to work in Hollywood. His first film, Back to God's Country (1919), was shot under difficult conditions near the Arctic Circle. After involvement in several low budget affairs as a free-lance cinematographer, he joined Columbia in 1927. Walker was to have a profound impact in elevating the status of this studio during the next two decades, inextricably linked with Columbia's best and commercially most successful films, until his retirement in 1952. His first assignment was a rather modest affair, however: the early sound film Submarine (1928), produced at the relatively modest budget of $150,000. Walker and director Capra worked out a way to use miniature toys and a discarded aquarium found in the props department to conjure up 'special effects'. An artistic understanding developed between the two men, and, from Capra's picture Flight (1929), Walker worked on each of the director's films for the next decade, winning an Academy Award nomination for You Can't Take It with You (1938).

An expert craftsman in composition, camera movement and perspective, and consummately skilled in the use of wide-angle and zoom lenses (of which he had a vast personal collection), Walker also excelled at lighting his sets. His most memorable scenes include the moonlit hayfield of It Happened One Night (1934), the torchlit funeral procession of Lost Horizon (1937) and, of course, George Bailey running along the snow-covered main street of Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Known in the industry as a 'woman's photographer', he also captured the best attributes of his leading ladies through his close-ups, shot with his own patented 4-inch lenses. Though he worked primarily on black-and-white features, Joe Walker was equally adept at the medium of colour and won his third of four Oscar nominations for Columbia's A-grade biopic, The Jolson Story (1946).

After his retirement, Walker's ever-active mind developed and manufactured the Electro-Zoom Lens for RCA (expanding on his earlier, basic design of 1932), later used as standard equipment by TV cameramen in the 1960's. In 1982, he became the inaugural recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for outstanding technological contributions to the industry. He detailed his memoirs two years later in his autobiography, entitled, "The Light on Her Face".

- IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Spouse (2)

Marjorie Warfield (c. 1923 - 1935) (divorced)
Juanita Walker (? - ?)

Trivia (16)

Prior to becoming a cinematographer, he had a career in electronics. Throughout his life he became known as a brilliant inventor and innovator.
His family moved to Venice, California in 1910. He became an assistant to Dr. Lee De Forest.
In 1911 he made the first wireless news report using equipment he designed.
In 1912 he built the first wireless transmitters for airplanes and automobiles.
In 1913 he made wireless news reports to The Los Angeles Times on the Mexican revolution.
He taught himself the fundamentals of cinematography using a borrowed movie camera.
In 1914 he began his film career with a days work on a picture. This led to shooting newsreels for Gaumont News, Kinograms and Hearst-Selig News.
He developed a variable diffusion system which was bought by the Mitchell Camera Company.
He developed a composite printing system that was purchased by the Williams Process Company.
He developed the Electra-Zoom lens which was sold to RCA and the Zeiss Optical Corporation.
During World War II, he developed cryptographic and aerial equipment.
He designed and built wide angle lenses for the Todd-AO system.
He was Frank Capra's favorite DP and shot 18 of his films.
On his 84th birthday, he was inducted into the Motion Picture Hall of Fame for "outstanding contributions in the art of making motion pictures."
The Board of Governors of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose him as the first recipient of the Gordon Sawyer Award for "numerous important contributions for the advancement of the motion picture industry.
Member of A.S.C. (American Society of Cinematographers).

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