DANIELS, William H.

Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: Cleveland, Ohio, 1 December 1895 (or 1900); brother of the director Jack Daniels. Attended the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Family: Married Betty Lee Gaston, 1943; two daughters and one son. Career: 1917—assistant cameraman for Triangle/KB; 1918–24—worked for Universal, then for MGM, 1924–43, Universal, 1945–58, and MGM, 1958–70; 1961–63—president, American Society of Cinematographers. Awards: Academy Award for The Naked City , 1948. Died: 14 June 1970.

Films as Assistant/2nd Cameraman:


Robinson Crusoe (short)


Blind Husbands (von Stroheim)


The Devil's Passkey (von Stroheim)


The Long Chance (Conway)

Films as Cinematographer:


Foolish Wives (von Stroheim) (co)


Merry-Go-Round (von Stroheim and Julian) (co)


Helen's Babies (Seiter) (co)


Women and Gold (Hogan); Greed (von Stroheim) (co); The Merry Widow (von Stroheim) (co); MGM Studio Tour (short)

William H. Daniels
William H. Daniels


Dance Madness (Leonard) (co); The Torrent (Bell); The Boob ( The Yokel ) (Wellman); Monte Carlo ( Dreams of Monte Carlo ) (Cabanne); Money Talks (Mayo); Bardelys the Magnificent (K. Vidor); The Temptress (Niblo) (co); Altars of Desire (Cabanne); Flesh and the Devil (Brown)


Captain Salvation (Robertson); Tillie, the Toiler (Henley); Love ( Anna Karenina ) (Goulding); On ze Boulevard (Millarde) (co)


The Latest from Paris (Wood); Bringing Up Father (Conway); Telling the World (Wood); The Actress (Trelawny of the Wells) (Franklin); The Mysterious Lady (Niblo); A Woman of Affairs (Brown); Dream of Love (Niblo) (co); A Lady of Chance (Leonard) (co)


Wild Orchids (Franklin); The Trial of Mary Dugan (Veiller); The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Franklin); Wise Girls ( Kempy ) (Hopper); The Kiss (Feyder); Their Own Desire (Hopper)


Anna Christie (Brown); Montana (St. Clair); Strictly Unconventional (Burton) (co); Le Spectre vert (Feyder—French version of L. Barrymore's The Unholy Night ); Romance (Brown); Si l'empereur savait ça! (Feyder—French version of L. Barrymore's His Glorious Night ); Olympia (Feyder—German version of His Glorious Night ); A Free Soul (Brown); Strangers May Kiss (Fitzmaurice); Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise ( The Rise of Helga ) (Leonard)


Mata Hari (Fitzmaurice); Lovers Courageous (Leonard); Grand Hotel (Goulding); As You Desire Me (Fitzmaurice); Skyscraper Souls (Selwyn)


Rasputin and the Empress ( Rasputin, the Mad Monk ) (Boleslawsky); The White Sister (Fleming); The Stranger's Return (K. Vidor); Broadway to Hollywood ( Ring Up the Curtain ) (Mack) (co); Dinner at Eight (Cukor); Christopher Bean (Wood)


Queen Christina (Mamoulian); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin); The Painted Veil (Boleslawsky)


Naughty Marietta (Van Dyke); Anna Karenina (Brown); Rendezvous (Howard)


Rose-Marie (Van Dyke); Romeo and Juliet (Cukor); Camille (Cukor) (co)


Personal Property (Van Dyke); Broadway Melody of 1938 (Del Ruth); Double Wedding (Thorpe); The Last Gangster (Ludwig); Beg, Borrow, or Steal (Thiele)


Marie Antoinette (Van Dyke); Three Loves Has Nancy (Thorpe); Dramatic School (Sinclair)


Idiot's Delight (Brown); Stronger than Desire (Fenton); Ninotchka (Lubitsch); Another Thin Man (Van Dyke)


The Shop around the Corner (Lubitsch); The Mortal Storm (Borzage); New Moon (Leonard)


So Ends Our Night (Cromwell); Back Street (Stevenson); They Met in Bombay (Brown); Shadow of the Thin Man (Van Dyke); Design for Scandal (Taurog) (co); Dr. Kildare's Victory ( The Doctor and the Debutante ) (Van Dyke)


For Me and My Gal (Berkeley) (co); Keeper of the Flame (Cukor)


Girl Crazy (Taurog) (co)


Brute Force (Dassin); Lured ( Personal Column ) (Sirk)


The Naked City (Dassin); For the Love of Mary (de Cordova); Family Honeymoon (Binyon)


The Life of Riley (Brecher); Illegal Entry (de Cordova); Abandoned (Newman); The Gal Who Took the West (de Cordova)


Woman in Hiding (Gordon); Winchester '73 (A. Mann); Harvey (Koster); Deported (Siodmak)


Thunder on the Hill ( Bonaventure ) (Sirk); The Lady Pays Off (Sirk); Bright Victory ( Lights Out ) (Robson)


When in Rome (Brown); Pat and Mike (Cukor); Glory Alley (Walsh); Plymouth Adventure (Brown); Never Wave at a WAC ( The Private Wore Skirts ) (McLeod)


Forbidden (Maté); Thunder Bay (A. Mann); The Glenn Miller Story (A. Mann); War Arrow (G. Sherman)


The Far Country (A. Mann); Strategic Command (A. Mann)


Six Bridges to Cross (Pevney); Foxfire (Pevney); The Shrike (J. Ferrer); The Girl Rush (Pirosh); The Benny Goodman Story (Davies)


Away All Boats (Pevney); The Unguarded Moment (Keller); Istanbul (Pevney)


Night Passage (A. Mann and Neilson); Interlude (Sirk); My Man Godfrey (Koster)


Voice in the Mirror (Keller); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Brooks); Some Came Running (Minnelli); A Stranger in My Arms (Kautner)


A Hole in the Head (Capra); Never So Few (J. Sturges)


Can-Can (W. Lang); All the Fine Young Cannibals (Anderson); Ocean's Eleven (Milestone)


Come September (Mulligan)


Jumbo ( Billy Rose's Jumbo ) (Walters); How the West Was Won (Hathaway)


Come Blow Your Horn (Yorkin); The Prize (Robson)


Robin and the Seven Hoods (Douglas) (+ assoc pr)


Von Ryan's Express (Robson); Marriage on the Rocks (Donohue) (+ pr)


Assault on a Queen (Donohue) (+ assoc pr)


In Like Flint (Douglas); Valley of the Dolls (Robson)


The Impossible Years (Gordon)


Marlowe (Bogart); The Maltese Bippy (Panama)


Move (Rosenberg)

Film as Associate Producer:


None But the Brave (Sinatra)


By DANIELS: articles—

"Photography at 40,000 Feet," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1955.

"Cinerama Goes Dramatic," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1962.

Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1967.

In Sources of Light , edited by Charles Higham, London, 1970.

Image (Rochester, New York), no. 1, 1979.

On DANIELS: articles—

Foster, Frederick, on Six Bridges to Cross in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1955.

Rowan, Arthur, on Night Passage in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1957.

Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.

Apecinema (Brussels), no. 4, 1974–75.

Bedford, Pat, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1983.

* * *

William H. Daniels gained considerable stature as a creative artist, even though he began his career by working well within the tradition of the Hollywood silents. In 1918, Daniels began working as cinematographer at Universal Studio, making serials and one-reel comedies. During the early 1920s he worked with Erich von Stroheim, whose obsession with detail is a Hollywood legend and who may very well have instilled in Daniels (although on a healthier scale) the eye for detail that was to become his own hallmark. The demands that von Stroheim made upon Daniels's lighting and photographic skills were tremendous, given the time: outdoor shots in Death Valley, shots taken deep in a gold mine (according to Daniels, in 132-degree heat) or a junk-man's cabin. Many of the shots over which Daniels took such great pains were cut out of the final version of Greed , but the discipline of shooting them left its mark on Daniels, who was about to face his greatest challenge—filming Greta Garbo.

Daniels achieved a major triumph in photographing Garbo in Flesh and the Devil . This cinematographer elegantly tailored his style, which called for the heavy use of gauzes and filters, to capture the sophisticated beauty of Garbo. He often lit Garbo with sidelights in half-tone, creating a chiaroscuro effect in which one half of the actress's face is lit, the other in shadows. However, unlike the way Lee Garmes consistently lit Dietrich, Daniels varied his lighting—often showing great imagination by improvising effects that can only be called romantic, in the broadest sense. These effects often lend the subtlest detail, and Daniels felt that the invention of details was his contribution to the director's vision.

It is no surprise that of the sound films made by Garbo, the most significant were photographed by William Daniels. In Anna Christie Daniels and Garbo achieved moments of real poetry—in spite of some stiffness caused by the relative newness of sound. In the adventurous film adaptation of Luigi Pirandello's As You Desire Me , Daniels was again working with von Stroheim—as well as Garbo. Considering the difficulty of the original play, the finished result is fascinating. Queen Christina is a masterpiece. This film includes one rare moment of pure cinema: the famous scene showing Garbo moving around the room in the inn where she first knew love. Daniels freely admited that the realistic elements were added under the influence of von Stroheim—the sources of light placed so as to seem as if the fire were the only source of light. The cinematographer, however, failed to acknowledge that the lighting and filming have an expressive side, which transcends the actual. In this scene, Daniels achieves the goal of conveying the drama through light as the director does through speech and action. In Anna Karenina we feel the lighting's aptness both for the reality and the psyche of the film—whether it is a tryst of lovers in a sun-dappled, leafy arbor or a flashing light of a passing train on Garbo's face. Even the virtuoso tracking shot over the officers' banquet table has the dramatic purpose of creating the elegant brutality of Tzarist Russia—a world of contradictions that eventually crush the protagonist. Ninotchka , for all its shallowness, is a flawlessly photographed and lit apotheosis of cinematic Art Nouveau. It is these films' magical mixture of Daniels and Garbo, of the actual and the glamorous, that represent the best of what is quintessentially Hollywood. It would be wrong to perceive Daniels merely as the best glamor director of the most glamorous of studios—MGM. He never lost touch with the deeper dramatic, psychological significance of a shot.

It is difficult after these films with Garbo to see Daniels's career as anything other than a decline. However, he did achieve some successes. He won the Academy Award for The Naked City , an acknowledgment of the realistic side of his talent. Nevertheless, a romantic mixture of life and daydreams remained his forte. Pat and Mike is a sun-filled world of tennis courts and golf courses. Katharine Hepburn was never photographed in any other film better than she is in this 1952 romantic comedy. In Valley of the Dolls , mediocre as it is otherwise, the face of Barbara Parkins, especially in the scenes set in New England, calls forth something vaguely reminiscent of the old Daniels-Garbo magic. Daniels combined romanticism with realism; and, like all great portraitists, his ultimate achievement was only as good as the face and personality he rendered.

—Rodney Farnsworth

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