James Glennon, 64; cinematographer won an Emmy for the HBO series 'Deadwood'

Times Staff Writer

James Glennon, a cinematographer known for his evocative camera work on the 1983 film "El Norte" and who also won an Emmy last year for the HBO series "Deadwood," has died. He was 64.

Glennon died of prostate cancer Oct. 19 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Barbara Halperin, his agent.

"He was the king of all sets," actress Laura Dern told The Times earlier this week. "He was the stand-up comic of the set, the meditative easer of all tensions for the crew. And he was the greatest gift to any actor .... He made the performance better, always."

His "masterful photography" helped turn "El Norte" into a "brilliant film," the Omaha World-Herald said in 1995. Gregory Nava's independent film, which follows the plight of a brother and sister who illegally emigrate from Guatemala to Los Angeles, is credited with helping to bring the immigrant experience to Hollywood's attention.

For "El Norte," Glennon had to figure out how to light the set in Central America without using electricity. At night, he moved around groups of lighted votive candles, and during the day he relied on mirrors to reflect light onto the set, he recalled in an interview on Kodak.com.

Of the more than 40 films he worked on, Glennon made a trio -- "Citizen Ruth" (1996), "Election" (1999) and "About Schmidt" (2002) -- with director Alexander Payne that he felt were among his best work, his agent said.

"Above and beyond his remarkable talent as a cinematographer, he was so full of positive energy," Payne told The Times on Thursday. "He was the master of the art of the possible and one of the funniest men I have ever met.

"I make comedies, and I felt so blessed to have such a visually funny man working with me."

Dern, who worked with Glennon on "Citizen Ruth" and other films, said he had an intuitive approach that came from growing up on film sets. His father, Bert, was a noted cinematographer who received an Oscar nomination for "Stagecoach," the 1939 John Ford western that starred John Wayne.

Glennon "could problem-solve in the great old-school way," Dern said. "If you didn't have the money, time or equipment, he had an unbelievably inventive way to get the shot. It could be using a wheelchair or a skateboard. He didn't need a dolly."

He remained proud of his cinematography on the 1986 science-fiction adventure "Flight of the Navigator," his agent said. The Times' review called the film "handsome" and his work "first-rate."

For the title sequence of "Ordinary People" (1980), Glennon had a visitor to the set -- his wife, Charmaine -- pose in a red coat on a bench, he said in the Kodak interview.

He also shot the U.S. sequences for "Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi" (1983).

In television, Glennon got his start on two shows from the 1960s, "Batman" and "Gilligan's Island," and listed about 30 series among his credits, including HBO's "Big Love."

James Michael Glennon was born Aug. 29, 1942. His mother, the former Mary Coleman, was a script supervisor.

At UCLA, he earned a bachelor's in filmmaking in 1968 and started his career in the mailroom at Warner Bros. He often delivered mail to studio President Jack Warner because "the other mail boys were terrified to walk into his office," Glennon recalled in the Kodak interview.

Warner advised him to buy a camera, rent it out for $100 a day and throw in his services for free. That led to Glennon's first feature film, "Jaws of Death" (1977), about killer whales off Vancouver Island.

Combined, the careers of Glennon and his father spanned 90 years in the film business, A.C. Lyles, a longtime producer at Paramount who worked with Glennon on "Deadwood," told The Times.

Glennon is survived by Charmaine, his wife of 29 years; children Meghan, Allison, Andrew and Juliet; and three brothers.

A public memorial service will be held at 9 a.m. today at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

Memorial contributions may be made to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, Box 951622, Los Angeles, CA 90095; or the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Research Institute, P.O. Box 48750, Room 2416, Los Angeles, CA 90048.


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