Herb Farmer dies at 89; USC film professor filmed football games at the Coliseum

Herb Farmer prepares to shoot a USC football game in 1942, the year he taught his first class at the university.
Herb Farmer prepares to shoot a USC football game in 1942, the year he taught his first class at the university.
(USC School of Cinematic Arts)

Herb Farmer, whose career at USC included filming football games from the roof of the Coliseum press box, overseeing the school’s film archives and serving as a professor and associate dean of the School of Cinematic Arts, has died. He was 89.

Farmer died in his sleep Sunday at his home in Westchester, said his son, Jim.

“Herb was an absolutely essential part of the School of Cinematic Arts, and it’s difficult to imagine him not being here,” Dean Elizabeth M. Daley said in a statement. “His devotion to the university, the school and the generations of students he instructed and inspired is matchless.”

Herbert Emerson Farmer was born March 31, 1920, in Buffalo, N.Y. He entered USC as a cinema student in 1938, participating in the Trojan News Reel, student films that showed life on campus. He started making football films as a student, his son said.

Farmer was within months of graduating in 1942 when he was asked to take over teaching a motion picture history class from a professor who had been called to serve in World War II.

“The biggest problem in 1942 was keeping things going on campus,” Farmer told the Daily Trojan in 2001. By 1943, he said, USC was “training pre-flight cadets for the Army and Navy on campus. There were 600 cadets that were here for training at one time.”

Farmer, who served in the Navy during World War II, returned to USC in 1946 and began teaching. He received his master’s degree in cinema from USC in 1954.

“When Herb arrived here . . . he was a pretty big man on campus because he had a camera and the school didn’t,” Doug Wellman, the film school’s director of facilities and operations, said in 2008.

“Herb brought this camera with him across country, and it became the official camera of USC cinema. And as Herb taught here and was a student here, he modified this camera. He added the 400-foot magazine. He added a motor drive. He added a variety of lenses . . . and he constantly improved it. And that is exactly what Herb has done for this entire school.”

Former USC assistant football coach Craig Fertig used to tell the story of when he was hired at USC and was told he also would be the “film coach,” Farmer’s son said. Fertig asked what the job included and head coach John McKay told him to call Herb Farmer. “He showed him how to splice film together and the other things he needed to know,” Jim Farmer said.

“He was so good at problem-solving,” Jim Farmer said. “He loved to get on his hands and knees and fix something.”

Farmer retired in 2001 but he continued as archivist of the school’s films and equipment, which include the soundboard from the 1927 film “The Jazz Singer” and decades of USC football coaching films.

In addition to his son, Farmer is survived by two grandchildren. His wife of 62 years, Beatrice Feickert Farmer, died in January. Services are being planned.