Cinematographer and cameraman.
Los Angeles, California, 1905 (some sources say 1900); sometimes credited
as Joseph W. La Shelle.
Trained as electrical engineer.
1923—joined Lasky Studios as laboratory assistant, then
superintendent of printing room at Paramount, and assistant cameraman:
assistant to Charles G. Clarke in late 1920s, and to Arthur Miller at
Pathé and Fox during 1930s; 1943—first film as
Academy Award for
In San Diego, California, 20 August 1989.
Rocking Moon (Melford); Whispering Smith (Melford); The Flame of the Yukon (Melford)
The Pagan (Van Dyke)
The Painted Desert (Higgin)
The White Parade (Cummings)
The Little Colonel (Butler); It's a Small World (Cummings)
The Baroness and the Butler (W. Lang)
Brigham Young—Frontiersman (Hathaway)
Tobacco Road (Ford); How Green Was My Valley (Ford)
The Song of Bernadette (H. King)
Happy Land (Pichel)
Bermuda Mystery (Stoloff); The Eve of St. Mark (Stahl); Take It or Leave It (Stoloff); Laura (Preminger)
Hangover Square (Brahm); A Bell for Adano (H. King); Fallen Angel (Preminger)
Doll Face ( Come Back to Me ) (Seiler); Cluny Brown (Lubitsch); Claudia and David (W. Lang)
The Late George Apley (Mankiewicz); The Foxes of Harrow (Stahl)
Deep Waters (H. King); The Luck of the Irish (Koster); Road House (Negulesco)
The Fan ( Lady Windermere's Fan ) (Preminger); Come to the Stable (Koster); Everybody Does It (Goulding)
Mother Didn't Tell Me (Binyon); Under My Skin (Negulesco); Where the Sidewalk Ends (Preminger); Mr. 880 (Goulding); The Jackpot (W. Lang)
The Guy Who Came Back (Newman); The Thirteenth Letter (Preminger); Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (Koster) (co); Elopement (Koster)
The Outcasts of Poker Flat (Newman); Les Miserables (Milestone); My Cousin Rachel (Koster); Something for the Birds (Wise)
Dangerous Crossing (Newman); Mister Scoutmaster (Levin)
Tournament of Roses (O. Lang—short); River of No Return (Preminger); The First Piano Quartet (O. Lang—short); Movie Stunt Pilot (O. Lang—short); Piano Encores (O. Lang—short); Jet Carrier (O. Lang—short); Marty (Delbert Mann)
Storm Fear (Wilde); The Conqueror (Powell) (co)
Our Miss Brooks (Lewis); Run for the Sun (R. Boulting); Crime of Passion (Oswald); Fury at Showdown (Oswald); The Bachelor Party (Delbert Mann)
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (Fowler); The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (Taurog); The Abductors (McLaglen); No Down Payment (Ritt)
The Long Hot Summer (Ritt); The Naked and the Dead (Walsh)
The Apartment (Wilder); All in a Night's Work (Anthony)
The Honeymoon Machine (Thorpe); The Outsider (Delbert Mann)
A Child Is Waiting (Cassavetes); How the West Was Won (Hathaway, Marshall, and Ford) (co)
Irma La Douce (Wilder); Wild and Wonderful (Anderson)
Kiss Me, Stupid (Wilder)
Seven Women (Ford); The Chase (Penn)
The Fortune Cookie ( Meet Whiplash Willie ) (Wilder)
Barefoot in the Park (Saks); Kona Coast (Johnson)
U.M.C. ( Operation Heartbeat ) (Sagal); 80 Steps to Jonah (Oswald)
"Cukoloris: Set Lighting's Most Versatile Tool," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1984.
Lightman, Herb A., on My Cousin Rachel in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1953.
Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
Kimble, G., on How the West Was Won in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1983.
Film Dope (Nottingham), November 1985.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 30 August 1989.
Obituary in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1989.
* * *
During a long career extending from 1924 through 1969, Joseph La Shelle earned a reputation as one of Hollywood's foremost practitioners of stylistic and literate cinematography through his work on such milestones as Laura , My Cousin Rachel , The Naked and the Dead , and The Apartment . In particular, he excelled at the difficult art of successfully transferring works initially conceived for other media to the screen by experimenting with angles and lighting to imbue them with a fresh perspective.
In Laura , which was taken from the stage, he overcame a script that called for no exterior shots other than one or two designed exclusively for studio sets. Through sheer artistry, he managed to convey a world of café society, expensive restaurants, and ornate Park Avenue apartments with few viewers noticing the absence of city streets and country parks. For this achievement, he received an Academy Award. However, his achievement is equally apparent on such other adaptations from the stage as The Long Hot Summer and Barefoot in the Park .
La Shelle started in films as a lab assistant in 1923 following his graduation from high school. He worked his way up to become head of the film laboratory at Lasky's by 1925 but deserted it for a job behind the camera a year later. After a variety of photographic assignments at the Metropolitan Studios and at the Cecil B. DeMille lot, he became a camera operator for the prominent cinematographer Arthur Miller, a position he held until 1943. During this period he achieved particular recognition for his work on John Ford's How Green Was My Valley and Henry King's The Song of Bernadette . After the latter film, he graduated to the rank of cinematographer and won the Academy Award for Laura a year later.
During a distinguished career, he was recognized as being equally adept in both black-and-white and color cinematography and was similarly "at home" with intimate comedy-dramas ( The Apartment ) or sprawling outdoor panaramas ( How the West Was Won ). He received 15 Academy Award nominations, making him one of the most critically acclaimed artists, regardless of category, in motion picture history.
—Stephen L. Hanson