John Alonzo; Filmed ‘Chinatown,’ Other Movies
John Alonzo, known as one of Hollywood’s most thorough cameramen with a gifted eye for light and color demonstrated in such films as “Chinatown,” has died. He was 66.
Alonzo, nominated for an Academy Award for his work on the Roman Polanski film noir, which starred Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, died Tuesday in Los Angeles.
A last-minute replacement for veteran cinematographer Stanley Cortez on Polanski’s intricate murder mystery set in 1930s Los Angeles, Alonzo relished the opportunity to work with--and learn from--the director.
“He [Polanski] said, ‘Johnny, please no diffusion on the lens; I don’t want a Hollywood look,’ ” Alonzo told The Times in 1999 shortly before speaking at Long Beach’s Wide Screen Film Festival where “Chinatown” would be shown. “So I borrowed an idea that the great Jimmy Wong Howe had told me about. I used Chinese tracing paper to shift the light and color so that it turned beige and gold. Roman liked it.”
In terms of learning from directors--and Alonzo became one himself with “FM” in 1978--Alonzo said he learned a lot from Polanski but considered Martin Ritt his true mentor. He teamed with Ritt on seven feature films, including three starring Sally Field: “Norma Rae,” “Back Roads” and “No Small Affair.”
Alonzo got his first director of photography credit on a feature film with “Bloody Mama” in 1970. Among the other motion pictures captured by Alonzo were “Sounder,” “Harold and Maude,” “Black Sunday,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Scarface,” “Star Trek: Generations” and special material for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
He also photographed major specials for television, beginning with a series for National Geographic in 1964.
Born in Dallas, Alonzo spent the first nine years of his life in Guadalajara, Mexico, before his family moved permanently to his native city.
Before he turned 20, Alonzo took on multiple tasks for WFAA-TV--pushing cameras, operating them and even directing. He also made still photographs, acted a little and had a television puppet show.
It was the puppets that brought Alonzo to Hollywood--in 1956 for a 26-week stint on KHJ-TV. Here, he began taking still photos of actors, who got him acting jobs.
His bit parts, usually as “bandidos” and other Mexican stereotypes, included a role in “The Magnificent Seven.” He never objected to the roles, saying, “I am Mexican!”
In the 1960s, Alonzo (aided by Howe who wanted his help shooting “Seconds”) became the first Mexican American director of photography admitted to Local 659 of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees and then to the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers.
Alonzo also shot short subjects, including “The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes” which was nominated for an Academy Award, and then documentaries for David Wolper Productions, before graduating to features in 1970.
Alonzo had been married for many years to Jan Murray.
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