Joseph Biroc

Joseph Biroc
Born Joseph Francis Biroc
(1903-02-12)February 12, 1903
New York City
Died September 7, 1996(1996-09-07) (aged 93)
Woodland Hills, California
Occupation Cinematographer
Years active 1927–1989

Joseph Francis Biroc, A.S.C. (February 12, 1903 – September 7, 1996) was an American Academy Award-winning 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.

Biroc frequently collaborated with film director Robert Aldrich.

Early Life and Education

Joseph F. Biroc was born on February 12, 1903 in New York City, New York as Joseph ‘Joe’ Francis Biroc.[1] He attended Emerson High School in Union City, New Jersey only to drop out to pursue a career in film – a subject he’d been passionate about since 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 promoted to assistant cameraman shortly after. 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).[2] 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 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), 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.


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 “is survived by one sister, Agnes Cronmeyer, of Cranford, NJ, and four grandchildren.”[3]

Partial filmography[1]

Year Film Director Notes
1929 The Rescue Herbert Brenon
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
1948 My Dear Secretary Charles Martin
1949 Roughshod Mark Robson
1949 Johnny Allegro Ted Tetzlaff
1949 Mrs. Mike Louis King
1950 The Killer That Stalked New York Earl McEvoy
1951 Cry Danger Robert Parrish
1951 The Bushwhackers Rod Amateau
1951 All That I Have William F. Claxton
1952 Red Planet Mars Harry Horner
1952 Bwana Devil Arch Oboler
1952 Loan Shark Seymour Friedman
1952 Without Warning! Arnold Laven
1953 The Tall Texan Elmo Williams
1953 The Glass Wall Maxwell Shane
1953 The Twonky Arch Oboler
1953 Vice Squad Arnold Laven
1953 Donovan's Brain Felix E. Feist
1954 World for Ransom Robert Aldrich
1954 Down Three Dark Streets Arnold Laven
1956 Nightmare
1956 Attack Robert Aldrich
1956 Tension at Table Rock Charles Marquis Warren
1957 Run of the Arrow Samuel Fuller
1957 Forty Guns Samuel Fuller
1957 The Amazing Colossal Man Bert I. Gordon
1959 The Bat Crane Wilbur
1959 FBI Story Mervyn LeRoy
1960 13 Ghosts William Castle
1961 The Devil at 4 O'Clock Mervyn LeRoy
1962 Bye Bye Birdie George Sidney
1963 Under the Yum Yum Tree David Swift
1963 Gunfight at Comanche Creek Frank McDonald
1964 Ride the Wild Surf Don Taylor
1964 Kitten with a Whip
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
1965 I Saw What You Did William Castle
1967 Enter Laughing Carl Reiner
1967 Tony Rome Gordon Douglas
1967 Fitzwilly Delbert Mann
1968 The Killing of Sister George Robert Aldrich
1968 The Detective Gordon Douglas
1968 The Legend of Lylah Clare Robert Aldrich
1968 What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? Lee H. Katzin
1970 Too Late the Hero Robert Aldrich
1970 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
1972 Emperor of the North Robert Aldrich
1973 Cahill U.S. Marshal Andrew V. McLaglen
1974 Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks
The Towering Inferno John Guillermin Won-Academy Award for Best Cinematography shared with Fred J. Koenekamp
The Longest Yard Robert Aldrich
1974 Shanks William Castle
1975 Hustle Robert Aldrich
1977 The Choirboys
1978 Little Women David Lowell Rich
1979 Beyond the Poseidon Adventure Irwin Allen
1980 Airplane! Jim Abrahams
David Zucker
Jerry Zucker
1980 ...All the Marbles Robert Aldrich
1982 Hammett Wim Wenders
1982 Airplane II: The Sequel Ken Finkleman


Bibliography and Further Reading


  1. 1 2 "JOSEPH F. BIROC". Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Special Collections | Margaret Herrick Library | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences". Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  3. 1 2 "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. "Index to Motion Picture Credits - Joseph Biroc". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  9. "Nominees/Winners". Television Academy. Retrieved 27 November 2016.

External links

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