Gregg Toland


Director Of Photography

About

Birth Place
Charleston, Illinois, USA
Born
May 29, 1904
Died
September 28, 1948
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

During the deeply entrenched days of the Hollywood studio system, cinematographer Gregg Toland's technical and visual innovations set him apart from the flock of doctrinaire technicians and engineers embedded in the formulaic studio factories. He was that rarity among technicians--a cinematographer eager to accept technological advances and apply them creatively to the narrative film for...

Notes

Toland pioneered in the adoption of new camera techniques such as the use of coated lenses and faster film stocks and is best remembered for his use of deep-focus compositions in Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" (1940) and William Wyler's "The Little Foxes" (1943) and "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946).

"The cameraman should always work in close collaboration with the scriptwriter and director before production. Each film should have its own particular style. A comedy and a tragedy should not be photographed in the same way: "The Grapes of Wrath", a harsh film; "The Long Voyage Home", a character film; "Citizen Kane", a psychological story in which the external realities were very important. It was marvelous to produce with Orson Welles. I made suggestions to him and tried out things I had wanted to try for a very long time. Camera movements should not be apparent because they distract attention from the actors and from what's happening."--Gregg Toland ("Dictionary of Filmmakers" by George Sadoul)

Biography

During the deeply entrenched days of the Hollywood studio system, cinematographer Gregg Toland's technical and visual innovations set him apart from the flock of doctrinaire technicians and engineers embedded in the formulaic studio factories. He was that rarity among technicians--a cinematographer eager to accept technological advances and apply them creatively to the narrative film form. Toland's talent was readily accepted by the Hollywood establishment, who graced him with a charmed life amid the workmanlike atmosphere pervading most studio productions. Contracted throughout his career to Samuel Goldwyn (although he was lent to other producers), Toland was permitted more freedom than most cinematographers of his time, from being allowed his choice of crew and story properties to converting studio cameras to his own specifications. Working with such outstanding directors as Howard Hawks, William Wyler, John Ford and Orson Welles, Toland was in the unique position of incorporating technological innovations into equally innovative narrative frameworks.

As a child, Toland attended technical school to study electrical engineering. At 15, Toland left school for Hollywood, where he found a position as an office boy for a Hollywood film studio. Developing an interest in camerawork, it wasn't long before he became an assistant to George Barnes. By the time Toland was 27, he had become a first cameraman, the youngest in Hollywood.

In Toland's early work, in films such as "Les Miserables" (1935), "Dead End" (1937), "Intermezzo" (1939), "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), "The Long Voyage Home" (1940), and "Wuthering Heights" (1939), he consciously rejected the soft focus, one-plane depth of the established Hollywood house style and strove for a more jarring, razor-sharp black-and-white, employing recent advances in photography that included the use of high-powered Technicolor arc lamps for black-and-white productions, Super XX film stock (a 1938 Kodak stock four times faster than its previous stock without any increase in graininess), lens coating (to cut down on glare) and self-blimped cameras (permitting filming in confined spaces). "The Long Voyage Home" is a milestone in the evolution of Toland's technical experimentation, enlisting high contrast black-and-white film, deep focus (with foreground, middle-ground, and background all in sharp focus), the self-blimped camera, ceilinged sets, low-angle lighting, shots composed into light sources and Germanic expressionism. But John Ford's turgid Eugene O'Neill mood piece was not an ideal showcase for Toland's technical wizardry, which required a bright, high-voltage directorial presence in which to display his innovations.

Toland once said, "I want to work with someone who's never made a movie. That's the only way to learn anything--from someone who doesn't know anything." In Orson Welles, Toland found a fresh perspective and vision outside of the Hollywood mainstream and in "Citizen Kane" (1941), he consolidated his bone-crisp look into a personal style, upsetting Hollywood cinematographic conventions in its wake. "Kane" synthesized Toland's deep focus experiments with Welles' directorial flourishes of fluid, moving camera shots and long takes, rejecting the standard Hollywood technique of intercutting. Welles and Toland achieved a heightened reality of space and time that exposed the artifice of the Hollywood house style, revitalizing Hollywood narrative forms and shaking up complacent technical and creative personnel.

At first Toland's deep-focus technique was considered too radical a departure from Hollywood norms. Moreover, Toland's fellow cinematographers found the films that succeeded "Kane," "The Little Foxes" and "Ball of Fire" (both 1941), too visually dense and confusing, and they complained that Toland's exaggerated depth-of-field sacrificed compositional roundness and rendered the image cartoonish.

After completing "Ball of Fire," Toland was drafted into wartime service with John Ford's OSS photographic unit, with which he shot Ford's memorable documentary, "December 7th" (1943). Toland was in the process of toning down his bravura technique into a more adaptable style, when, at 44, he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1948.

Where Toland rebelled in the 1930s against the prevalent style, by the end of the 1940s, Toland's technique had become the "new" Hollywood style, a transformation that invigorated a moribund classical cinema through the late 1940s and into the 1950s, until the advent of television and cheap cinematic gimmicks marked the fragmentation of the Hollywood system.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

December 7th (1943)
Director

Cinematography (Feature Film)

Enchantment (1949)
Director of Photography
A Song Is Born (1948)
Director of Photography
The Bishop's Wife (1948)
Director of Photography
The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
Director of Photography
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Director of Photography
Song of the South (1946)
Photography
The Outlaw (1943)
Photography
December 7th (1943)
Cinematographer
Ball of Fire (1942)
Photography
The Little Foxes (1941)
Photography
Citizen Kane (1941)
Photography
The Westerner (1940)
Cinematographer
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Photography
The Long Voyage Home (1940)
Photography
They Shall Have Music (1939)
Cinematographer
Raffles (1939)
Cinematographer
Intermezzo, a Love Story (1939)
Photography
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Photography
Kidnapped (1938)
Photography
The Cowboy and the Lady (1938)
Photography
The Goldwyn Follies (1938)
Photography
History Is Made at Night (1937)
Director of Photography
Dead End (1937)
Photography
Woman Chases Man (1937)
Photography
Strike Me Pink (1936)
Dances and ensembles Photographer
Come and Get It (1936)
Camera
These Three (1936)
Photography
Beloved Enemy (1936)
Photography
The Road to Glory (1936)
Photography
The Wedding Night (1935)
Photography
The Dark Angel (1935)
Photography
Les Misérables (1935)
Photography
Public Hero No. 1 (1935)
Photography
Mad Love (1935)
Photography
Splendor (1935)
Photography
Lazy River (1934)
Photography
Forsaking All Others (1934)
Photography
We Live Again (1934)
Photography
Nana (1934)
Photography
Tugboat Annie (1933)
Photography
The Nuisance (1933)
Photography
The Masquerader (1933)
Photography
Roman Scandals (1933)
Photography
The Kid from Spain (1932)
Photography
Man Wanted (1932)
Photography
The Tenderfoot (1932)
Photography
Play Girl (1932)
Photography
The Washington Masquerade (1932)
Photography
The Unholy Garden (1931)
Photography
One Heavenly Night (1931)
Photography
Tonight or Never (1931)
Photography
Palmy Days (1931)
Photography
Indiscreet (1931)
Photography
Raffles (1930)
Director of Photography
The Devil to Pay (1930)
Director of Photography
Whoopee! (1930)
Photography
The Trespasser (1929)
Director of Photography
Condemned (1929)
Director of Photography
This Is Heaven (1929)
Director of Photography
Bulldog Drummond (1929)
Director of Photography

Writer (Feature Film)

December 7th (1943)
Screenplay

Life Events

1929

Became lighting cameraman

1929

Signed to contract by Samuel Goldwyn, for whom he worked throughout the rest of his career

1943

Co-directed short documentary film (with John Ford), "December 7th"

Videos

Movie Clip

Ball Of Fire (1942) - Shove In Your Clutch Sugarpuss (Barbara Stanwyck) briefed backstage by thugs Pastrami (Dan Duryea) and Asthma (Ralph Peters), all of them mistaking Professor Potts (Gary Cooper) for a lawman, in Howard Hawks' Ball Of Fire, 1942, from an original screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.
Wuthering Heights (1939) - I'm Neither Thief Nor Stranger Returned from America, making an obscured reference to their childhood romance, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) tells Cathy (Merle Oberon), her husband Edgar (David Niven) and his sister Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) he's home to stay, in Wuthering Heights, 1939, the Samuel Goldwyn production directed by William Wyler, from the Emily Bronte novel.
Ball Of Fire (1942) - Just Another Apple Stripper Sugarpuss (Barbara Stanwyck) surprises grammar Professor Potts (Gary Cooper), ready to begin her interview right away, his colleagues, modeled on the Seven Dwarves, supporting the idea, in Howard Hawks' Ball Of Fire, 1942.
Ball Of Fire (1942) - Two And Two Are Five Allen Jenkins is the garbage man, seeking trivia help from encyclopedia-writing professors (Oscar Homolka, Aubrey Mather, Richard Haydn, S.Z. Sakall et al), Potts (Gary Cooper) committing to new research, in Howard Hawks' Ball Of Fire, 1942.
Les Miserables (1935) - I Myself Was Born In Prison Villain Javert (Charles Laughton) is confirmed to his police rank, supplying his own character background, in an early scene from Richard Boleslawski's 20th Century Fox production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, 1935.
Les Miserables (1935) - A Wonderful Effort Crucial scene nicely wrought by director Richard Boleslawski, Fredric March, whom we know is really the reformed criminal Valjean, now known as M. Madeleine, a prosperous business owner, performs a rescue, stirring the memory of the magistrate Javert (Charles Laughton), his one-time jailer, in 20th Century-Fox’s Les Miserables, 1935.
Les Miserables (1935) - The Good Priest Bishop Bienvenue (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) makes a big deposit in the karma bank, telling the cops that the plates Valjean (Fredric March) stole were in fact a gift, in the 1935 Fox production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.
Les Miserables (1935) - Opening, Ten Years In The Galleys Title sequence and first scene introducing Valjean (Fredric March) from director Richard Boleslawski's lavish but efficient 1935 production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, from 20th Century Fox.
Les Miserables (1935) - Where's My Bread? Valjean (Fredric March) suffering and Javert (Charles Laughton) observing in director Richard Boleslawski's quick survey of Prisoner #2906's ordeal, from Fox's 1935 production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, 1935.
Song Is Born, A (1948) - Daddy-o Head-turning introduction of Virginia Mayo, as Honey (Barbara Stanwyck was “Sugar” in the original Ball Of Fire, 1942, also directed by Howard Hawks), dubbed by Jeri Sullavan, with the Page Cavanaugh trio (Al Viola on guitar, Lloyd Pratt on bass), song by Don Raye and Gene de Paul, Danny Kaye as observing professor Frisbee, in A Song Is Born, 1948.
Song Is Born, A (1948) - Dorsey, Armstrong, Etc. Danny Kaye is the music professor doing research but this is only a showcase for big musical guests, notably Tommy Dorsey on trombone, ending with Lionel Hampton joining Louis Armstrong, in one of his best-ever on-camera trumpet solos, from Samuel Goldwyn's A Song Is Born, 1948.
Song Is Born, A (1948) - How Jazz Was Born The musical show-stopper, joining the original novelty number by Don Raye and Gene de Paul, Virginia Mayo dubbed by Jeri Sullavan, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet on sax, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Mel Powell on piano, and Louie Bellson drumming, Danny Kaye the professor in charge, in Howard Hawks’ remake of his own Ball Of Fire, 1942, A Song Is Born, 1948.

Trailer

Man Wanted - (Original Trailer) A female executive (Kay Francis) falls in love with her male secretary (David Manners) in Man Wanted (1932).
Westerner, The (1940) -- (Original Trailer) A drifter (Gary Cooper) accused of horse stealing faces off against the notorious Judge Roy Bean (Walter Brennan).
Grapes of Wrath, The - (Original Trailer) Henry Fonda stars in John Ford's movie version of the John Steinbeck novel about Depression-era migrants, The Grapes of Wrath (1940).
Enchantment - (Original Trailer) Handkerchiefs at the ready as a British general (David Niven) finds the adoption of a beautiful orphan (Teresa Wright) leads to Enchantment (1948).
Bishop's Wife, The - (Original Trailer) Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, stars of the romantic fantasy The Bishop's Wife (1947), introduce the...we'll let them explain.
Best Years Of Our Lives, The - (Re-issueTrailer) Seven Oscars including Best Picture went to this story of America immediately after World War II, The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946).
Citizen Kane -- (Original Trailer) The investigation of a publishing tycoon's dying words reveals conflicting stories about his life in this famous trailer for Citizen Kane (1941).
Tenderfoot, The - (Original Trailer) Joe E. Brown stars as an innocent cowboy who sets out to back a Broadway play in The Tenderfoot (1932) based on George S. Kaufman's play The Butter And Egg Man.
Ball Of Fire - (Original Trailer) A stuffy professor (Gary Cooper) takes in a sexy showgirl (Barbara Stanwyck) to study her syntax in Howard Hawks' Ball Of Fire (1942).
Lazy River - (Original Trailer) Ex-convicts try to stop a Chinese smuggling ring in Lazy River (1934) starring Robert Young.
Public Hero No. 1 - (Original Trailer) An undercover G-man (Chester Morris) helps with a jailbreak to learn the mob's secrets. Co-starring Jean Arthur and Lionel Barrymore.
Mad Love - (Original Trailer) A mad doctor grafts the hands of a murderer on to a concert pianist's wrists in Mad Love (1935) starring Peter Lorre.

Bibliography

Notes

Toland pioneered in the adoption of new camera techniques such as the use of coated lenses and faster film stocks and is best remembered for his use of deep-focus compositions in Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" (1940) and William Wyler's "The Little Foxes" (1943) and "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946).

"The cameraman should always work in close collaboration with the scriptwriter and director before production. Each film should have its own particular style. A comedy and a tragedy should not be photographed in the same way: "The Grapes of Wrath", a harsh film; "The Long Voyage Home", a character film; "Citizen Kane", a psychological story in which the external realities were very important. It was marvelous to produce with Orson Welles. I made suggestions to him and tried out things I had wanted to try for a very long time. Camera movements should not be apparent because they distract attention from the actors and from what's happening."--Gregg Toland ("Dictionary of Filmmakers" by George Sadoul)