IN HIS OWN WORDS…

            Gregg Toland, ASC continues to expound in this second excerpt from William Roberts’ February 1941 article, Shooting For the Stars.  In an era during which information was so tightly controlled by the studios, it’s interesting that he spoke with such candor.  Modern Screen was a mass-market fan magazine, but it seems he’s talking a bit above its readers’ heads.

            There’s still plenty to come, so I’ll post more of this on Friday.  Be sure to check back…

            With two decades behind a Hollywood camera, I wondered just which particular feminine face Gregg Toland considered the best he had ever brought into focus.

            His answer, like his personality and his pictures, was direct.

            “Anna Sten,” he replied.  “She was by far the most photogenic woman I ever shot.  She didn’t have an insipid baby doll face, you know the type.  She had a face full of good bones and character.  Her cheeks caught the lights well, and her nose was so tilted as to place attractive shadows beneath.  Frances Farmer was another face I enjoyed working on and, of course, if you want to go way back into ancient history, there was no one like the incomparable Gloria Swanson.

            “On the other hand, an actress like Merle Oberon gives the photographer a good deal of work.  Her countenance can only be photographed from certain angles.  And as to clothes, her body requires that she wear either fluffy dresses or evening gowns to show her up to advantage.  Jean Arthur, a dear friend of mine, won’t mind my mentioning that her face is also a lighting job, but, when it comes to attire, she is perfectly photogenic in anything from a cowboy costume to a bathing suit.

            Toland paused for punctuation, then smiled.

            “Of course,” he said cheerfully, “I’d rather photograph girls like June Lang and Arleen Whelan with their pretty little faces, than any.  Because they’re no work at all.  You set your camera and your lights anywhere, and they still look cute.  If I shot them constantly, though, I’d become far too lazy.”

            Now, he spoke of the stronger sex.

            “The most photogenic male is Gary Cooper.  But he looks best when he isn’t photographed well!  Here’s what I mean.  If he’s shot casually and naturally, without frills or fuss, he has plenty of femme appeal.  He doesn’t have to be dolled up like the juvenile leads.  If you don’t believe me, just take a gander at him in ‘The Westerner.’ He’s grand in it and without special lighting or any make-up.

            “Henry Fonda is another I enjoy working with. He also doesn’t require makeup. And he’s so damn intelligent. Understands props, stage business, electricity. You know, Fonda’s main hobby is photography, and on ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ he spent half his time looking through my camera, which, of course, gave him a better understanding of what I was after.”

1.3.2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *