Lothrop Worth, the cinematographer whose career began during the silent era and later helped inspire the 3-D craze of the 1950s, died March 16 at the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in Woodland Hills. He was 96.
Worth had been a successful movie cameraman since the late 1920s, working with some of Hollywood’s most noted stars, including James Cagney, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich and Barbara Stanwyck.
While briefly out of work during the early 1950s, he developed a system of cameras and mirrors that created the illusion of increased depth on the silver screen that he coined “natural vision.” The technique was used by Worth to film 1952’s “Bwana Devil.”
While not the first 3-D film released (1922’s “Power of Love” holds that distinction), it induced mogul Jack Warner to sign Worth and his partner, Trent Baker, to film the 1953 Vincent Price starrer “House of Wax” as a 3-D production.
The phenomenon (fueled by TV’s bite into the studio’s box office receipts) was short-lived, however, and by the mid-1950s had all but faded into oblivion.
The Melrose, Mass.-born Worth grew up near USC in Los Angeles. Worth’s mother was working as a beautician for the wife of Cecil B. DeMille when Worth’s father died of a heart attack. The director’s wife secured Worth a job at her husband’s studio.
He began his film career in 1923 when he filmed the titles for “The Ten Commandments.” He briefly worked as a sound engineer when talkies took hold, but quickly returned to camera work, first as a camera operator and then as a cinematographer.
One of the most remembered films he worked on was the 1957 cult hit “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein,” near the end of his long career.
He worked at most of the major studios at one time or another, including 20th Century Fox and Paramount, where he spent 20 years.
His DOP credits include “Gog,” “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter,” “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Hostile Guns.”
Worth, who retired in 1969, also worked on TV, including shooting episodes “The Donna Reed Show” and “The Real McCoys.”
Worth and his late wife, Jean, who died in 1989, were donors to the motion picture hospital, where a wing was dedicated in their honor in 1989. Last year he donated 150 television sets to the retirement home in memory of his late wife, and as recently as January he contributed matching funds for a new medicine program at the hospital.
At his request, there will be no memorial service.