Chicago, Illinois, 23 June 1893.
Brother of the director George B. Seitz. Married; two children.
1909—worked for St. Louis Motion Picture Company as laboratory
technician; 1913—first film as photographer; 1916—joined
Metro Pictures; many technical innovations: invented the matte shot
(prephotographed backgrounds with action foregrounds), and held 18 patents
on photographic inventions; 1920—first of many films for Rex
Ingram; 1929–30—President, American Society of
In Woodland Hills, California, 27 February 1979.
Ranger of Lonesome Gulf ; The Quagmire
Souls in Pawn (H. King); Whose Wife? (Sturgeon)
Beauty and the Rogue (H. King); Powers That Prey (H. King)
The Westerners (Sloman)
The Sagebrusher (Sloman); Hearts Are Trumps (Ingram); Shore Acres (Ingram)
The Conquering Power (Ingram); The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Ingram); Uncharted Seas (Ruggles)
The Prisoner of Zenda (Ingram); Trifling Women (Ingram); Turn to the Right (Ingram)
Scaramouche (Ingram); Where the Pavement Ends (Ingram)
The Price of a Party (Giblyn); The Arab (Ingram); Classmates (Robertson) (co)
The Magician (Ingram); Mare Nostrum (Ingram)
The Fair Co-ed (Wood)
Across to Singapore (Nigh); Adoration (Lloyd); Outcast (Seiter); The Patsy (K. Vidor)
The Divine Lady (Lloyd); Careers (Dillon); Hard to Get (Beaudine); Her Private Life (A. Korda); A Most Immoral Lady (Wray); The Painted Angel (Webb); Saturday's Children (La Cava); The Squall (A. Korda); The Trail of '98 (Brown)
Back Pay (Sieter); The Bad Man (Badger); In the Next Room (Cline); Kismet (Dillon); Murder Will Out (Badger); Road to Paradise (Beaudine); Sweethearts and Wives (Badger); Misbehaving Ladies (Beaudine)
East Lynne (Lloyd); Young Sinners (Blystone); Hush Money (Lanfield); Men of the Sky (Green); Merely Mary Ann (H. King); Age for Love (Lloyd) (co); Over the Hill (H. King)
She Wanted a Millionaire (Blystone); Careless Lady (MacKenna); Woman in Room 13 (H. King); Passport to Hell (Lloyd); Six Hours to Live (Dieterle)
Dangerously Yours (Tuttle); Ladies They Talk About (Bretherton and Keighley); Adorable (Keighley); Paddy, the Next Best Thing (Lachman); Mr. Skitch (Cruze)
Coming Out Party (Blystone); All Men Are Enemies (Fitzmaurice); Springtime for Henry (Tuttle); Marie Galante (H. King)
Helldorado (Cruze); One More Spring (H. King); Our Little Girl (Robertson); Curly Top (Cummings); Beauty's Daughter (Dwan) (co); The Littlest Rebel (Butler)
The Country Doctor (H. King) (co); Captain January (Butler); Poor Little Rich Girl (Cummings); Fifteen Maiden Lane (Dwan)
Between Two Women (G. Seitz); Madame X (Wood); Navy Blue and Gold (Wood)
Love Is a Headache (Thorpe); Lord Jeff (Wood); Young Dr. Kildare (Bucquet); Stablemates (Wood); The Crowd Roars (Thorpe)
Huckleberry Finn (Thorpe); Sergeant Madden (von Sternberg); Six Thousand Enemies (G. Seitz); Thunder Afloat (G. Seitz); Bad Little Angel (Thiele)
Dr. Kildare's Strange Case (Bucquet); A Little Bit of Heaven (Marton); Dr. Kildare's Crisis (Bucquet)
Sullivan's Travels (P. Sturges)
Fly By Night (Siodmak); This Gun for Hire (Tuttle); The Moon and Sixpence (Lewin); Lucky Jordon (Tuttle)
Five Graves to Cairo (Wilder)
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (P. Sturges); Hour Before Dawn (Tuttle); Double Indemnity (Wilder); Hail the Conquering Hero (P. Sturges); Casanova Brown (Wood)
The Unseen (Allen); The Lost Weekend (Wilder)
The Well Groomed Bride (Lanfield); Home Sweet Homicide (Bacon); Wild Harvest (Garnett)
The Imperfect Lady (Allen); Calcutta (Farrow)
Saigon (Fenton); The Big Clock (Farrow); A Miracle Can Happen ( On Our Merry Way ) (Fenton and K. Vidor) (co); Beyond Glory (Farrow); The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (Farrow)
The Great Gatsby (Nugent); Chicago Deadline (Allen)
Captain Carey, U.S.A. (Leisen); Sunset Boulevard (Wilder); The Goldbergs (Hart)
Dear Brat (Seiter); Appointment with Danger (Allen); When Worlds Collide (Maté) (co)
The San Francisco Story (Parrish); The Savage (Marshall); The Iron Mistress (Douglas)
Desert Legion (Pevney); Invaders from Mars (Menzies); Botany Bay (Farrow)
Saskatchewan (Walsh); Rocket Man (Rudolph); Rogue Cop (Rowland)
Many Rivers to Cross (Rowland); The McConnell Story ( Tiger in the Sky ) (Douglas); Hell on Frisco Bay (Tuttle)
Santiago (Douglas); A Cry in the Night (Tuttle)
The Big Land (Douglas)
The Deep Six (Maté); The Badlanders (Daves)
Island of Lost Women (Tuttle); The Man in the Net (Curtiz)
Guns of the Timberland (Webb)
Lightman, Herb A., in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), September 1950.
Films in Review (New York), October 1967.
Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 7 March 1979.
Obituary in Ecran , 15 April 1979.
Obituary in Cinematographe , April 1979.
* * *
The development of the photographic artistry of John F. Seitz is virtually synonymous with the evolution of cinematography itself into the sophisticated form of expression it is today. At the time of his death in 1979, he held as many as 18 patents for different photographic processes and the technology to implement them. Although he was best known for the invention of the matte shot and the use of intense low-key lighting, he was instrumental in creating a distinctive visual style for a variety of landmark films spanning both the silent and sound eras.
His career began in 1909 with the St. Louis Motion Picture Company but, in 1916, he moved to Hollywood to join Metro Pictures. There, he collaborated with the director Rex Ingram in filming such classics as The Conquering Power , The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse , The Prisoner of Zenda , Where the Pavement Ends , and Mare Nostrum .
It was during his collaboration with Ingram that Seitz invented the matte process. In this procedure, a mask was employed to expose just one area of the film frame in a particular pattern. When the film was subsequently rewound and used to photograph live action, a unique artistic effect was achieved. Although employed at first for relatively simple maneuvers such as shots through keyholes and binocular views, the process quickly developed the ability to produce spectacular effects by combining live action with photographic images, backgrounds, and physical objects.
He is probably best known for his work during the 1940s when he collaborated principally as a lighting cameraman with such directors as Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges. His most famous works include Sullivan's Travels , The Miracle of Morgan's Creek , and Hail the Conquering Hero for Sturges as well as Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard for Billy Wilder.
—Stephen L. Hanson