Harold Rosson in New York City, 1895.
Brother of the directors Arthur Rosson and Richard Rosson; Married 1) the
actress Jean Harlow, 1933 (divorced 1935); 2) Yvonne Crellin (divorced).
1908—bit player at Vitagraph, and worked in various production
capacities before becoming a camera operator in 1915, and a
cinematographer in 1917; then worked mainly for MGM.
Special Academy Award, 1936.
In Florida, 6 September 1988.
Films as Cinematographer:
David Harum (Dwan) (cam)
Panthea (Dwan) (co)
The Cinema Murder (Baker)
Polly of the Storm Country (Baker)
Heliotrope (Baker); Buried Treasure (Webb); Everything for Sale (O'Connor)
A Homespun Vamp (O'Connor); A Virginia Courtship (O'Connor); The Cradle (Powell); For the Defense (Powell); Through a Glass Window (Campbell)
Quicksands (Conway) (co); Lawful Larceny (Dwan); Garrison's Finish (A. Rosson); Dark Secrets (Fleming); The Glimpses of the Moon (Dwan); Zaza (Dwan)
Manhattan (Burnside); A Society Scandal (Dwan); Manhandled (Dwan); The Story without a Name (Willat)
A Man Must Live (Sloane); Too Many Kisses (Sloane); The Little French Girl (Brenon); The Street of Forgotten Men (Brenon); Classified (Santell)
Infatuation (Cummings); Up in Mabel's Room (Hopper); For Wives Only (Heerman); Say It Again (La Cava); Almost a Lady (Hopper); Man Bait (Crisp)
Rough House Rosie (Strayer) (co); Jim the Conqueror (Seitz); Getting Gertie's Garter (Hopper); Evening Clothes (Reed); Service for Ladies (D'Arrast); A Gentleman of Paris (D'Arrast); Open Range (Smith)
The Docks of New York (von Sternberg); Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (St. Clair); The Sawdust Paradise (Reed); Three Week Ends (Badger); The Drag Net (von Sternberg); Abie's Irish Rose (Fleming)
The Far Call (Dwan); Trent's Last Case (Hawks); Frozen Justice (Dwan); South Sea Rose (Dwan); The Case of Lena Smith (von Sternberg)
Hello Sister (W. Lang); This Mad World (C. DeMille) (co); Madame Satan (C. DeMille); Passion Flower (W. De Mille)
Men Call It Love (Selwyn); The Prodigal (Pollard); The Squaw Man (C. DeMille); Son of India (Feyder); Sporting Blood (Brabin); The Cuban Love Song (Van Dyke)
Red Headed Woman (Conway); Red Dust (Fleming); Tarzan, the Ape Man (Van Dyke); When a Feller Needs a Friend (Pollard); Are You Listening? (Beaumont); Downstairs (Bell); Kongo (Cowan)
Hold Your Man (Wood); Bombshell (Fleming); Hell Below (Conway); The Barbarian (Wood); Turn Back the Clock (Selwyn); Penthouse (Van Dyke) (co)
The Cat and the Fiddle (Howard) (co); This Side of Heaven (Howard); Treasure Island (Fleming) (co)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Young)
As You Like It (Czinner); The Ghost Goes West (Clair); The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Mendes); The Devil Is a Sissy (Van Dyke) (co); The Garden of Allah (Boleslawsky) (co)
Captains Courageous (Fleming); They Gave Him a Gun (Van Dyke); The Emperor's Candlesticks (Fitzmaurice)
Too Hot to Handle (Conway); A Yank at Oxford (Conway)
Gone with the Wind (Fleming) (co); The Wizard of Oz (Fleming)
Boom Town (Conway); I Take This Woman (Van Dyke); Flight Command (Borzage); Edison the Man (Brown); Dr. Kildare Goes Home (Bucquet)
The Penalty (Bucquet); Men of Boys Town (Taurog); Washington Melodrama (Simon); Honky Tonk (Conway); Johnny Eager (LeRoy)
Somewhere I'll Find You (Ruggles); Tennessee Johnson (Dieterle)
Slightly Dangerous (Ruggles)
Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (LeRoy) (co); An American Romance (K. Vidor); Between Two Women (Goldbeck)
Three Wise Fools (Buzzell); No Leave, No Love (Martin) (co); My Brother Talks to Horses (Zinnemann)
The Hucksters (Conway); Living in a Big Way (La Cava); Duel in the Sun (K. Vidor) (co)
Command Decision (Wood); Homecoming (LeRoy)
On the Town (Kelly and Donen); Any Number Can Play (LeRoy); The Stratton Story (Wood)
To Please a Lady (Brown); Key to the City (Sidney); The Asphalt Jungle (Huston)
The Red Badge of Courage (Huston)
The Lone Star (V. Sherman); Love Is Better Than Ever (Donen); Singin' in the Rain (Kelly and Donen)
The Actress (Cukor); I Love Melvin (Weis); The Story of Three Loves (Reinhardt and Minnelli) (co); Dangerous When Wet (Walters)
Mambo (Rossen); Ulisse ( Ulysses ) (Camerini)
Strange Lady in Town (LeRoy); Pete Kelly's Blues (Webb)
The Bad Seed (LeRoy); Toward the Unknown (LeRoy)
The Enemy Below (Powell)
No Time for Sergeants (LeRoy); Onionhead (Taurog)
El Dorado (Hawks)
By ROSSON: article—
In The Art of the Cinematographer , by Leonard Maltin, New York, 1978.
On ROSSON: articles—
Wayne, Palma, in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 22 July 1933.
Lightman, Herb A., in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1950.
Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1973.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 14 September 1988.
Obituary in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1988.
* * *
Louis B. Mayer once said to the cinematographer Hal Rosson: "If it's an MGM film, it has to look like an MGM film." Rosson, one of the pioneers in motion picture photography—his career spanned the years 1915 to 1967—spent 23 of those years at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and is one of the photographers who helped create and maintain the "polished look" that was so integral a part of the studio's films.
Rosson was an actor with Vitagraph as early as 1908 and became a camera operator in 1915. By 1920 he was a full-fledged cinematographer at Paramount where he enjoyed close working relationships with such directors as Allan Dwan, Harry D'Arrast, Mal St. Clair, and Josef von Sternberg, working on such films as Manhandled , A Gentleman of Paris , Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , and The Docks of New York . Rosson recalled that during those days one experimented, listened, and watched to learn and develop one's craft. Technical difficulties were approached and surmounted as they occurred, with no pretensions to "art." In doing so, Rosson became one of the finest exponents of his craft.
He joined MGM in 1930 and it was there that he perfected his own skills and aided that studio in developing the glossy patina which would become an MGM trademark. One beautifully photographed film was Red Dust , starring Jean Harlow (whom he married). MGM loaned him to Selznick International for The Garden of Allah in 1936, and Rosson recalled that while he knew nothing about color film at the time, he decided "to control color, to eliminate color unless it could be used dramatically. I didn't want color to control me." For his efforts, he and cophotographer W. Howard Greene, received special Academy Award plaques. His most outstanding achievement with color was for MGM's The Wizard of Oz , though again he modestly described his work as simply a matter of "controlling color." He received Academy Award nominations for his MGM work on such black-and-white films as Boom Town , Thirty Seconds over Tokyo , and The Asphalt Jungle , and ended his MGM years with excellent color work on Singin' in the Rain and The Story of Three Loves . After 1955 he worked at various studios, and received an Oscar nomination for The Bad Seed at Warner Bros. His last film was Howard Hawks's El Dorado for Paramount. Rosson was proud of his years at MGM, and fondly recalled its esprit de corps : "The spirit was such that we were proud to be at MGM."