skip navigation
John Alonzo

John Alonzo

Up
Down

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Recent DVDs

 
 

John Alonzo - NOT AVAILABLE

Find what your looking for faster use the search field below to shop for titles.

SEARCH TCM.COM/SHOP


OR ... Click here to VOTE > for this person to be released on Home Video



Also Known As: John A Alonzo, John Alonso, John A. Alonzo Died: March 13, 2001
Born: June 12, 1934 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: Dallas, Texas, USA Profession: director of photography, director, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A versatile cinematographer, native Texan John A Alonzo began his career at a Dallas television station where he created the character of Senor Turtle for a local children's show. When he brought the tortoise to Hollywood, he found the West Coast inimical to the program and fell back on acting after its cancellation. Although he appeared in "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) and had bigger roles in lesser films like "The Long Rope" (1961) and "Terror at Black Falls" (1962), Alonzo soon found his acting taking a back seat to the still photography that was paying the bills in between parts. He began to devote himself to the study of cinematography, favoring the work of such standards of excellence as Walter Strenge, Floyd Crosby, Winton Hoch and James Wong Howe. In fact, it was Howe who gave him his big break as a camera operator on John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" (1966) as well as sponsoring him for union membership (seconded by Frankenheimer). In short order, Alonzo got his first job as director of photography on Roger Corman's "Bloody Mama" (1970).Alonzo's experience as a documentary filmmaker in the late 60s prepared him for his collaboration with Corman, who was also a fast worker. He scored points...

A versatile cinematographer, native Texan John A Alonzo began his career at a Dallas television station where he created the character of Senor Turtle for a local children's show. When he brought the tortoise to Hollywood, he found the West Coast inimical to the program and fell back on acting after its cancellation. Although he appeared in "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) and had bigger roles in lesser films like "The Long Rope" (1961) and "Terror at Black Falls" (1962), Alonzo soon found his acting taking a back seat to the still photography that was paying the bills in between parts. He began to devote himself to the study of cinematography, favoring the work of such standards of excellence as Walter Strenge, Floyd Crosby, Winton Hoch and James Wong Howe. In fact, it was Howe who gave him his big break as a camera operator on John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" (1966) as well as sponsoring him for union membership (seconded by Frankenheimer). In short order, Alonzo got his first job as director of photography on Roger Corman's "Bloody Mama" (1970).

Alonzo's experience as a documentary filmmaker in the late 60s prepared him for his collaboration with Corman, who was also a fast worker. He scored points with the producer-director for his willingness to climb on ladders to adjust lights (in violation of union rules) and his ability to shoot hand-held footage that the camera operator could not (also in defiance of union rules). Building on that start, he added to his reputation for swiftness with the actioner "Vanishing Point" and Hal Ashby's cult favorite "Harold and Maude" (both 1971) before teaming for the first time with mentor Martin Ritt on "Sounder" (1972). His decision to shoot the opening coon hunt at night instead of as day-for-night and his use of hidden lamps to provide a flare of light here and there added a certain excitement to the proceedings and helped establish the lyrical quality the director was after. Otherwise, he just provided as natural a light as possible and allowed the actors' behavior and the artwork to sell the "period."

"Lady Sings the Blues" (1972) gave him the opportunity to go for more lighting effects, adding color for the nightclub scenes and using a fog filter to get a sense of period, as well as experimenting for the first time with smoke effects (colored smoke whenever possible). "Chinatown" (1974) paired him with director Roman Polanski, who psyched everybody involved into functioning at maximum efficiency in their contributions to the masterpiece. Alonzo actually inherited the plum assignment from Stanley Cortez, whose refusal to shoot Faye Dunaway without diffusion angered Polanski and cost him the job. He sold the director on the use of an anamorphic 40mm lens (often even in close-up), teaching Polanski a great deal about composition within that aspect ratio of 2.35 to 1. "You don't have to fill the edges of the screen. You do it with lighting if you want to fill the edges, or let the edges go . . . a D.W. Griffith kind of bright center and dark toward the edges." For his efforts on this film noir classic, Alonzo received his (to date) sole Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.

Alonzo joined the all-star list of directors of photography (i.e., Laszlo Kovacs, William A Fraker and Vilmos Zsigmond) on Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) and continued collaborating whenever possible with Ritt. He made a competent, though overlooked, directorial debut with the anarchic, pre-"WKRP" radio station comedy, "FM" (1978) and directed four CBS-TV movies from 1979-80 on which he also handled the cinematography. The cost-conscious Alonzo has always refused to use extra lights just because he can, and producers and directors know that he is not fooling around "when I suddenly say to them I need $55,000 today for lighting." Ritt's "Norma Rae" featured 99 percent hand-held camerawork, and despite the lighting problems inherent in such shooting, he traveled to locations without a generator, taking four electricians and four grips. "The only thing I fight for in a budget is the crew's salary."

"Cross Creek" (1983) marked his seventh and final film with Ritt, and though he has continued to work steadily, he has not found anyone else with whom he has established a comparable chemistry. Alonzo has provided valuable assistance to first-time directors like Richard Pryor ("Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling" 1986) and Charles Matthau ("The Grass Harp" 1995), though no amount of help could save Rip Torn's disastrous "The Telephone" (1988). His best pictures in the late 80s were arguably Garry Marshall's comedies "Nothing in Common" (1986) and "Overboard" (1987), though a case might be made for Herbert Ross' "Steel Magnolias" (1989). His projects in the 90s have included Ralph Bakshi's disappointing live-action/animated feature "Cool World" (1992) and the far more successful "Star Trek: Generations" (1994). He recently helped provide the top-notch look of John McNaughton's period gangster movie "Lansky" (HBO, 1999), starring Richard Dreyfuss.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Blinded By the Light (1980) Director
2.
  Belle Starr (1980) Director
3.
  Champions: A Love Story (1979) Director
4.
  Portrait of a Stripper (1979) Director
5.
  FM (1978) Director

CAST: (feature film)

3.
 50 Years of Action! (1986) Himself
4.
 Invitation to a Gunfighter (1964) Manuel
5.
6.
 Hand of Death (1962) Carlos
7.
 The Long Rope (1961) Manuel Álvarez
8.
 The Crowded Sky (1960) Young repairman
9.
 The Magnificent Seven (1960) Miguel
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Worked as camera operator and director at WFAA-TV (Dallas) in the eraly 1950s
1956:
Moved to Los Angeles to host a children's show on local KHJ-TV, featuring Senor Turtle, a character he had created for a Dallas show
:
Turned to acting after cancellation of show and earned extra money doing publicity stills as a photographer
1960:
Appeared in "The Magnificent Seven"
1962:
Acted in Richard Sarafian's "Terror at Black Falls"
:
Served as cameraman on short films by independent filmmakers such as Bruce Curtis and Robert Clause
:
Worked for David Wolper Productions on William Friedkin-directed documentaries "Mayhem on a Sunday Afternoon" (1965) and "The Thin Blue Line" (1966)
1966:
Filled in as a camera operator for cinematographer James Wong Howe on John Frankenheimer's "Seconds" and impressed Howe and Frankenheimer so much that they sponsored him for union membership
1970:
First feature as director of photography, "Bloody Mama"
1971:
Reunited with Sarafian, this time serving as director of photography on "Vanishing Point"
1971:
Initial TV-movie as director of photography, "Revenge" (ABC)
1972:
First collaborations with director Martin Ritt, "Sounder" and "Pete 'n' Tillie"
1972:
Shot Brian De Palma's "Get to Know Your Rabbit"
1974:
Reteamed with Ritt for "Conrack"
1974:
Received an Academy Award nomination for his work on Roman Polanski's "Chinatown"; replaced Stanley Cortez on film
1977:
Was director of photography for Frankenheimer's "Black Sunday"
1977:
Photographed parts of Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (credited as additional director of photography)
1978:
First collaboration with producer Ray Stark, "The Cheap Detective"
1978:
Feature directorial debut, "FM"
1979:
TV directing debut, "Champions: A Love Story" (CBS); also director of photography
1979:
Reunited with Ritt for "Norma Rae"
1983:
Seventh and last collaboration with Ritt, "Cross Creek"
1983:
Reteamed with De Palma on the reamke of "Scarface"
1986:
Initial collaboration with Garry Marshall, "Nothing in Common"; third and final teaming with Stark
1987:
Collaborated again with Marshall on "Overboard"
1990:
Served as cinematographer for Friedkin's "The Guardian"
1992:
Was director of photography for Ralph Bakshi's mix of animation and live action, "Cool World"
1994:
Shot "Star Trek: Generations"
1999:
Served as cinematographer on John McNaughton's "Lansky" (HBO); garnered Emmy nomination
2001:
Final screen credit, "Deuces Wild"; released posthumously
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

About juggling dual responsibilities on TV projects: "I found it to be very easy. I used my regular crew and they know what I want as a cameraman. So I can give them the set-up and I can go away to work with my actors; then they call me when I'm ready. I come back in, watch my actors go through it, maybe change the lighting a little bit and then we start shooting. I've found it easy to do that. My concentration was 90 percent towards my actors and 10 percent towards my cinematography which just fell into place. It wasn't difficult at all. It might be difficult with a strange crew. In certain projects it might be difficult also. I might get into a very heavy dramatic piece where I really should have a cameraman do it so I can deal more with the script and actors. But I'm not going to give up cinematography." --Alonzo quoted in "Masters of the Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers" by Dennis Schaefer & Larry Salvato (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984)

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Jan Murray. Survived him.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Raymond Alonzo. Migrant worker. Mexican.
mother:
Maria Alonzo. Migrant worker. Mexican.
daughter:
Krista Alonzo Haines. Married to John Haines; survived him.

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute