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Today’s Google Doodle Celebrates Cinematographer James Wong Howe: The Master of Shadow

One of the best things about the Google Doodle is how it highlights historical figures we might have missed out on and today is no exception. The Google Doodle of the day is cinematographer James Wong Howe.

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Howe was born in Taishan, Canton Province, China in 1899 and he, along with his family, immigrated to the United States in 1904. However, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, he wasn’t able to become a citizen until 1943 when it was repealed and Howe was 44-years-old and lived in America for most of his life.

For years, Howe worked as a commercial photographer as well as a professional prizefighter before he began working as an assistant to the famous filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, according to TIME. While working with DeMille, he became recognized for his “constant efforts to achieve realism” and for “pioneering the use of wide-angle lenses as well as the crab dolly, a dolly best used on flat surfaces where three of the wheels turn in the same direction.”

While Howe would go on to work on over 150+ films throughout his career in Hollywood, the racial discrimination in the United States still limited what he could do, including get married. Due to anti-miscegenation laws his marriage to white author, Sanora Babb, would not be recognized until 1949, even though they were wed in Paris in 1937.

After World War II, because he showed some Communist sympathy he was “grey-listed” and had trouble finding work until director Samuel Fuller hired him to shoot The Baron of Arizona.  In 1956, Howe won his first Academy Award for Best Cinematography for The Rose Tattoo. He would win his second for  Hud in 1963. Altogether, he was nominated ten times.

In terms of technical innovation in film, Howe found ways to make blue eyes show up in orthochromatic film, he was one of the earliest cinematographers to really work with the dramatic lighting and deep shadows, that would become a staple of film noir. Some even call his 1955 movie Picnic to be one of the earliest examples of the “helicopter shot.”

The Google Doodle was created in conjunction with Howe’s nephew, Don Lee. According to TIME it was originally rolled out last year, however, “it was withheld from running nationally when Hurricane Harvey struck the southern coast as a mark of respect to the events and relief effort.”

We are lucky to have it running today in honor of this trailblazer in film.

(via TIME/Google, image: Public Domain)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.

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