Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: Decatur, Illinois, 1903. Military Service: U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II: captain. Career: 1923—newsreel photographer for Paramount; 1927—did aerial photography for Wings ; 1929—contract with RKO; mid-1930s—worked as photographer in Mexico and Spain; 1953–54—photographed the television series Gang-Busters . Awards: Presidential Award, American Society of Cinematographers, 1994. Died: 7 January 1996.
The Lost Squadron (Archimbaud and Sloane); The Conquerors (Wellman) (aerial ph)
Maria Elena (Sevilla); El 113 (Sevilla)
Rinconcito madrileno (Artola); Lola Triana (del Campo)
Memphis Belle (Wyler—short)
For You I Die (Reinhardt)
Once a Thief (W. Wilder)
Confidence Girl (Stone)
Phantom from Space (W. Wilder); Island in the Sky (Wellman) (aerial ph); Killers from Space (W. Wilder)
The High and the Mighty (Wellman) (aerial ph); Track of the Cat (Wellman)
Gang-Busters (Karn) (+ co-pr); Top of the World (Foster) (aerial ph); The Sea Chase (Farrow); Blood Alley (Wellman); Sincerely Yours (Douglas); Good-bye, My Lady (Wellman)
Seven Men from Now (Boetticher); Gun the Man Down (McLaglen); The Man in the Vault (McLaglen)
Dragoon Wells Massacre (Schuster); Fort Dobbs (Douglas); Bombers B-52 ( No Sleep till Dawn ) (Douglas); Darby's Rangers ( The Young Invaders ) (Wellman); Lafayette Escadrille ( Hell Bent for Glory ) (Wellman); Jet Pilot (aerial photography) (von Sternberg)
China Doll (Borzage); Escort West (Lyon)
The Horse Soldiers (Ford)
The Alamo (Wayne); Tomboy and the Champ (Lyon)
Ring of Fire (Stone); The Deadly Companions (Peckinpah); The Comancheros (Curtiz); The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford)
Merrill's Marauders (Fuller)
Donovan's Reef (Ford); McLintock! (McLaglen)
A Distant Trumpet (Walsh); Cheyenne Autumn (Ford)
Shenandoah (McLaglen); The Rare Breed (McLaglen)
Stagecoach (Douglas); Way . . . Way Out (Douglas)
The Way West (McLaglen); The War Wagon (Kennedy); Firecreek (McEveety)
The Devil's Brigade (McLaglen); Bandolero! (McLaglen); Hellfighters (McLaglen)
The Undefeated (McLaglen)
The Cheyenne Social Club (Kelly); Chisum (McLaglen); Rio Lobo (Hawks)
Big Jake (G. Sherman)
The Train Robbers (Kennedy)
Wings (Wyler) (aerial ph); Underworld ( Paying the Penalty ) (von Sternberg)
The Last Command (von Sternberg); The Patriot (Lubitsch); Sins of the Fathers (Berger)
Rio Rita (Reed)
Hit the Deck (Reed); The Silver Horde (Archainbaud); Cimarron (Ruggles)
King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack)
Gunga Din (Stevens)
Name, Age, Occupation (Lorentz—short)
Fort Apache (Ford) (asst)
On Film , 1970.
Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), April 1973.
Take One (Montreal), no. 8, 1975.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1977.
Interview in Five American Cinematographers , by Scott Eyman, London, 1987.
Clark, Donald, and Christopher Andersen, in John Wayne's The Alamo : The Making of the Epic Film: in TODD-AO , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1994.
Obituary, in Classic Images (Muscatine), February 1996.
Obituary, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1996.
Obituary, in Classic Images (Muscatine), March 1996.
* * *
"I never saw a mountain I wouldn't climb," said the cinematographer William H. Clothier, "if I thought I could make my shot better, or get up on a rooftop, or in an airplane, anything to improve a shot." In the course of 45 years, Clothier climbed many a mountain, and risked his life in all types of aircraft to achieve the most effective photography. A favorite Clothier setup involved digging a pit for his camera and crew, then charging John Ford's cavalry over it for a spectacular low-angle shot. Whether filming Westerns in Monument Valley, or documentary footage of aerial combat during World War II, Clothier was the preeminent location cameraman. His sense of composition and penchant for dangerous settings appealed to such action-oriented directors as Ford, William Wellman, Raoul Walsh, and Howard Hawks, and Clothier photographed their last films.
It took Clothier 20 years to rise to the status of Hollywood director of photography, but he brought with him a wealth of rich and varied cinematic experience. He broke into pictures at the age of 20, painting sets at Warner Brothers. He worked his way up to assistant cameraman on low-budget Westerns before joining Harry Perry's camera crew on William Wellman's aviation spectacular Wings . A contract with Paramount followed, and Clothier assisted such veteran cinematographers as Bert Glennon (his strongest influence) and Victor Milner. With the advent of sound, he moved to RKO, where he did the beautiful aerial cinematography in Wellman's The Conquerors , and assisted on Cimarron , The Silver Horde , and King Kong . Clothier spent the rest of the 1930s as a first cameraman in the fledgling Mexican and Spanish film industries, and shot newsreels of the Spanish Civil War for Paramount. He returned to America to work as Joseph August's assistant cameraman on Gunga Din , and during World War II served as a photographic officer in the U.S. Eighth Air Force. In this capacity he shot William Wyler's historic documentary Memphis Belle , a color film shot in combat situations in the European skies.
After the war, Clothier began a relationship with John Ford, working first as a camera operator for Archie Stout on Fort Apache . He also made his first Hollywood film as a director of photography, the low-budget For You I Die . He renewed his association with William Wellman in 1953 shooting the aerials for Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty , the former in black and white, the latter in color and CinemaScope, both offering Clothier's visual sense of space and composition. With Archie Stout's retirement, Clothier became Wellman's regular cameraman, and he shot the remainder of Wellman's films. Track of the Cat was a fascinating experiment, a black-and-white film in color. In the exteriors, the snow and forest were shot in low-light situations to create a black-and-white look. In the interiors the actors were clothed in black and white except for Robert Mitchum's red jacket and Diana Lynn's yellow sleeves. The cumulative effect was visually remarkable, and a statement against the typical garish color of Hollywood product. The other Wellman films have good pictorial values as well— Blood Alley was comic-book color, recreating China in San Rafael, California; Good-bye, My Lady profited from Georgia swamp locations; Darby's Rangers featured a memorable combat terrain filmed entirely on a misty soundstage; and Lafayette Escadrille contains some breathtaking aerial scenes shot at dawn, although the dogfights were reused from Wellman's earlier Men with Wings .
Clothier's work for John Ford is also distinguished. The main title sequence of The Horse Soldiers showcases a classic Clothier shot, a long view of 30 Union troopers galloping along a railroad track, silhouetted against the sky. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is black-and-white symbolism, a story about right and wrong, and the building of a myth, given eloquence by the simplicity of Clothier's cinematography. By contrast, Ford's Donovan's Reef with its bright colors and Hawaiian locations, and Cheyenne Autumn , filmed in color and Super Panavision 70mm to emphasize the epic qualities of the piece, reveal another side of Clothier's talent.
Clothier's films for Wellman and Ford, most of which starred John Wayne, made him the actor's favorite cameraman, and he was enlisted to shoot Wayne's Todd-A0 epic The Alamo . It is one of his best-looking pictures, visualized in the style of Frederic Remington's Western paintings. Clothier went on to shoot the majority of Wayne's pictures, all on Western and Mexican locations. Many of them, including McLintock! , The Undefeated , and Chisum , were directed by the former Wellman/Ford assistant director Andrew McLaglen.
Clothier's style embraced landscape and location in the classic manner of Remington and Russell, and his films share a common trait of beautiful compositions. Win Sharples, Jr., once commented on the shot across the dunes towards a line of horsemen in Burt Kennedy's The Train Robbers , and it sums up the essence of Clothier's work: "There was that clean, strong recording of the image—the composition coming out of that instinctive placing of the camera, a matter of an inch or two adjustment in the set-up, and the lighting just perfect—a real Clothier shot."
—John A. Gallagher
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