Academy Award-winning cinematographer Robert Lee Surtees, whose career spanned more than five decades of motion picture history, has died after a prolonged illness. A spokesman for the family said Surtees, 78, died Saturday at a convalescent hospital in Carmel, where he had been a patient for several months.
Established since the 1940s as one of the industry's most reliable head cameramen, Surtees was a specialist in lush color cinematography--although he won one of his three Oscars with a black-and-white picture: "The Bad and the Beautiful."
In addition to that 1952 award, Surtees won Oscars for cinematography on "King Solomon's Mines" (1950) and "Ben Hur" (1959). He was nominated for 13 other Academy Awards--a record for a director of cinematography.
Born Aug. 9, 1906, in Covington, Ky., Surtees moved to California in the mid-1920s, shortly after graduation from Withrow High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, and got into the motion picture business as an assistant to such master cinematographers as Gregg Toland and Joseph Ruttenberg.
He was employed at Universal Studios for two years before transferring to the firm's German subsidiary, Universal Berlin, where he worked for a time before returning to the United States in 1930.
Surtees later was employed as a director of cinematography at First National, Warner Bros., Pathe and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer before striking out on his own as a free-lancer.
His other major credits include "Our Vines Have Tender Grapes," "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," "Mogambo," "Oklahoma," "The Swan," "Raintree County," "Mutiny On The Bounty," "Quo Vadis," "The Graduate," "The Hallelujah Trail," "The Collector," "Doctor Doolittle," "Sweet Charity," "Summer of '42," "The Last Picture Show," "The Cowboys," "The Other," "Oklahoma Crude," "The Sting," "The Great Waldo Pepper," "The Hindenburg," "A Star is Born," "The Turning Point" and "Same Time Next Year."
He is survived by his wife, Maydall Surtees; four children, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.