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Early Hollywood Cinematographer James Wong Dies at Home in WeHo

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Cinematographer James Wong Howe Put Diversity in the Picture in Early Hollywood

WEST HOLLYWOOD (Variety) — Few Hollywood stories can match the career highs and heartbreaking lows of , whom Variety recognized in its July 15, 1976, edition as “one of the world’s foremost cinematographers.”

Born in China on Aug. 28, 1899, he was 5 when his family moved to the U.S. At 18, he was hired for $10 a week to pick up scraps of nitrate film from the cutting room floor, which led to other jobs, including his debut as cinematographer on six films in 1923. Among his credits were “The Thin Man,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Picnic,” “Sweet Smell of Success,” “The Rose Tattoo” and “Hud”; he won Oscars for the last two. His final film was the 1975 “Funny Lady.”

Wong Howe married writer Sanora Babb in Paris in 1937, but because she was Caucasian, the marriage wasn’t recognized in the U.S. until 1949, when California rescinded its anti-miscegenation law. Even then, Wong Howe and Babb couldn’t go public, since mixed-race marriage violated the studios’ morals clause.

Wong Howe became fascinated watching film crews in L.A.’s Chinatown, and he applied for a job carrying equipment for the Jesse Lasky Studios in 1917. But he was too small, so they hired him for less physical work. He also starting working on the set during production and […]

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