British cinematographer Oswald Morris, who won the Oscar for “Fiddler on the Roof” and worked steadily with director John Huston, died March 17 in Fontmell Magna, Dorset, England. He was 98.
Morris was “one of the most innovative color cinematographers in history,” according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers. “It’s just that some of his experiments predated the 1970s when everyone was noticing.”
In addition to his win for “Fiddler on the Roof,” the lenser was Oscar nominated for musicals “Oliver!” in 1969 and “The Wiz” in 1979. He was also known for his work on Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita,” J. Lee Thompson WWII actioner “The Guns of Navarone” and James Bond film “The Man With the Golden Gun.”
Morris was first listed as camera man on 1946’s “Green for Danger” and was credited as camera operator on David Lean’s classic 1948 “Oliver Twist” (he would return to the same material almost two decades later when he shot the musical “Oliver!” for Carol Reed).
Morris earned his first cinematography credit on Ronald Neame’s “Golden Salamander” (1950). The two went on to make a number of films together, including “The Promoter,” “The Man Who Never Was” and, later, the musical “Scrooge” (1970) and thriller “The Odessa File” (1974). Neame, a former lenser himself, called Morris “probably the greatest cameraman in the world.”
But Morris’ most notable cinematic partner was director Huston, for whom he shot eight films starting with 1952’s “Moulin Rouge.”
On this 3-strip Technicolor film, he used smoke to create the impression, as Huston wanted, that the movie was something Toulouse-Lautrec might have painted.
Morris’ other films for Huston included “Beat the Devil” (1953), “Moby Dick” (1956), “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” (1957), “Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) and “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975).
But Morris was at home in black and white as well, bringing a harsh realism to Tony Richardson’s “Look Back in Anger” (1958) and “The Entertainer” (1960).
Morris was first nominated for the cinematography Oscar in 1969 for the musical “Oliver!” He won in 1972 for “Fiddler on the Roof.” As cinematographer M. David Mullen described Oliver’s technique on the film, it was “shot entirely through a brown pantyhose — stretched over the lens and held with a rubber band — for a soft, earthy palette.”
Morris was again nominated in 1979 for musical “The Wiz.”
His last film was “The Dark Crystal” in 1982.
Morris began in showbiz by working as projectionist at the local moviehouse during school vacations in what’s now the London Borough of Hillingdon.
He dropped out of school and started working at Wembley Studios as an unpaid assistant for Michael Powell, among others, and then as a clapper boy, first on 1932’s “After Dark”; eventually he began earning assistant camera credits.
During WWII Morris served as an RAF bomber pilot, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Force Cross. He joined Pinewood Studios after the war.
Morris’ memoirs, “Huston, We Have a Problem: A Kaleidoscope of Filmmaking Memories” were published in 2006.
He won the American Society of Cinematographers’ International Award in 2000.
Morris’ brother Reginald Herbert Morris was also a cinematographer.