Victor Milner was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 15, 1893, and his family moved to New York when he was 12. He became interested in movies at that age while attending dingy nickelodeons, watching the projector operators who were not yet hidden from view in fireproof booths. “The operator would let me take control of the projector whenever his girlfriend came to visit him,” Milner remembered.
Milner later found a job with Eberhard Schneider, who manufactured motion-picture cameras and other film equipment. His first experience cranking a movie camera came when he shot footage of a storm at Rockaway Beach. In 1913, Milner shot his first feature film, Hiawatha: The Indian Passion Play, but he soon returned to shooting actualities, becoming one of the first four cameramen hired by Pathé News.
In 1916, Milner came to California on his honeymoon and heard that the Balboa Amusement Producing Company in Long Beach was looking for a cameraman. He got the job and gave up newsreels for dramatic films. He later gained attention as the second cameraman on 17 films for William S. Hart. Milner also worked at Metro and Universal, sometimes in the first camera position and sometimes in the second (as with the 1923’s Scaramouche, which he co-photographed with future ASC member John Seitz).
He landed at Paramount in 1925 and spent the rest of his career at that studio, earning nine Academy Award nominations. He took home the Oscar for the 1934 drama Cleopatra. After shooting Jeopardy (1953), Milner retired. He died on October 29, 1972.
Joseph H. August, a cinematographer known for his outdoor work, began his film career as a cowboy at Inceville in 1911. August was born on April 26, 1890, in Idaho Springs, Colorado, and grew up in ranch country. He gave up wrangling to become an assistant to cinematographer Ray Smallwood, a stern mentor who taught Joe to rely on his eyes. “There was a device … known as the illumination system … designed to obtain for the cameraman something parallel to what a meter would provide today,” August recalled in 1939. “I was told with considerable detail and even more emphasis just what fate would befall me if he ever found me fussing with one of those gadgets.”
August shot his first film, The Lure of the Violin, in 1912, and became chief cinematographer for William S. Hart in 1915. He would shoot more than 40 of the Western star’s films, including Hell’s Hinges (1916), The Toll Gate (1920) and Hart’s swan song, Tumbleweeds (1925). August bragged that he never used a foreground reflector when working with Hart, though he sometimes utilized a white bedsheet to provide fill.
After Hart’s first retirement in 1921, August went to work for Fox, where he did his first work with director John Ford on Lightnin’ (1925). August’s association with Ford would lead to The Informer (1935), for which the cinematographer won an Oscar. Although acclaimed for his outdoor photography, August was also known for his low-key lighting, a technique developed through necessity because lamp units were a luxury and not terribly efficient in his early days behind the camera. With pictures such as A Damsel in Distress (1937), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) to his credit, August remained one of Hollywood’s top cinematographers, but he continued to rely on the principles he learned in the silent era. “Many things have changed during the rise and development of the picture-making industry,” August said shortly after completing Gunga Din (1939), “but the basis of lighting seems to be about the same as it was in the beginning.”
During World War II, August served with John Ford’s OSS film unit. He was wounded while shooting the Oscar-winning documentary short The Battle of Midway (1942). August’s final assignment was the lush romantic fantasy Portrait of Jennie. The film was nearing completion at the Selznick studio in Culver City when the cinematographer collapsed and died of a heart attack on September 25, 1947.
Arthur Edeson’s credits include some of the best-remembered films of all time: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1943), Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). Born in New York City on October 24, 1891, Edeson was barely making a living as a portrait photographer in 1910 when he decided to try his hand at the movies. “I went to the old Eclair Studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and applied for a job. While I was waiting in the outer office, a man came in and stabbed his finger around the crowded room, saying: ‘I’ll take you and you and you. Come with me.’ I couldn’t tell whether I was one of those selected, but I joined the group anyway. Once inside the mysterious recesses of the studio, I found I’d been hired as an actor.”
Edeson never lost his interest in photography, however, and began to shoot portraits of his fellow actors. His photos caught the attention of cinematographer John Van den Broeck, and when a cameraman fell ill, Van den Broeck suggested that Edeson fill in. “In those times, flat lighting was the rule of the day,” Edeson wrote. “However, I began to introduce some of the lighting ideas I had learned in my portrait work a suggestion of modeling here, an artistically placed shadow there and soon my efforts tended to show a softer, portrait-like quality on the motion-picture screen. This was so completely out of line with what was considered good cinematography in those days that I had to use my best salesmanship to convince everyone it was good camerawork.”
When American Eclair was reorganized as the World Film Corporation, Edeson stayed on to become chief cinematographer for the star Clara Kimball Young, and when she left for California in 1917, Edeson followed. In 1920, Douglas Fairbanks saw For the Soul of Rafael, one of Edeson’s films for Young, and signed the cinematographer for three of his biggest pictures: The Three Musketeers (1921), Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924). Of Fairbanks, Edeson would say, “To anyone who worked with him, moviemaking today seems prosaic and cramped by comparison.”
Among Edeson’s credits in the 1920s were Stella Dallas and The Lost World (both 1925), and the atmospheric old-dark-house thriller The Bat (1926). At Fox, he shot the first all-outdoor 100-percent talkie, In Old Arizona (1929), and the first Fox Grandeur 70mm film, The Big Trail (1930). He later worked at Universal and MGM and eventually settled in at Warner Bros., where he would remain until his 1949 retirement. Edeson died on February 14, 1970, in Agoura Hills, California.