Oscar Winning Cameraman Dies

Friday, March 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES – John Alonzo, known as one of Hollywood's most thorough cameramen with a gifted eye for light and color demonstrated in such films as Chinatown, has died. He was 66.

Mr. Alonzo, nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the Roman Polanski film noir, died Tuesday in Los Angeles.

A last-minute replacement for veteran cinematographer Stanley Cortez on Mr. Polanski's intricate murder mystery set in 1930s Los Angeles, Mr. Alonzo relished the opportunity to work with the director.

"He [Polanski] said, 'Johnny, please no diffusion on the lens; I don't want a Hollywood look,'" Mr. Alonzo told the Los Angeles Times in 1999. "So I borrowed an idea that the great Jimmy Wong Howe had told me about. I used Chinese tracing paper to shift the light and color so that it turned beige and gold. Roman liked it."

Born in Dallas, Mr. Alonzo spent the first nine years of his life in Guadalajara, Mexico, before his family moved permanently to his native city.

In terms of learning from directors, and Mr. Alonzo became one himself with FM in 1978, Mr. Alonzo said he learned much from Mr. Polanski but considered Martin Ritt his true mentor. He teamed with Mr. Ritt on seven feature films, including three starring Sally Field: Norma Rae, Back Roads and No Small Affair.

Mr. Alonzo earned director of photography credit on a feature film with Bloody Mama in 1970. Among the other motion pictures captured by him were Sounder, Harold and Maude, Black Sunday, Lady Sings the Blues, Scarface, Star Trek: Generations and special material for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

He also photographed major specials for television, beginning with a series for National Geographic in 1964.

Mr. Alonzo also shot short subjects, including The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and then documentaries for David Wolper Productions, before graduating to features in 1970.