Home / Oral History / Completed Oral Histories
The Oral History Program documents the lives and careers of individuals who have worked in various areas of the motion picture industry. To date, our interviewers have conducted more than 70 in-depth oral histories on subjects ranging from art direction and film editing to censorship and Academy history. A number of interviewees were also questioned in detail about their contribution to the filmmaking effort during World War II.
Acclaimed production designer Ken Adam (born 1921) discusses his long career in the British and American film industries, particularly his work on six James Bond films and his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick. Mr. Adam, who was born in Germany, describes breaking into the British film industry after serving in the Royal Air Force, and his eventual work on such landmark motion pictures as “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Dr. No” and “Dr. Strangelove.” He also recollects his Academy Award winning production design for Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and Nicholas Hytner’s “The Madness of King George.”
Miss Balkan (1907-1999) talks about her extensive career as a costume designer and sketch artist, working with renowned figures such as Travis Banton and Edith Head at Paramount Pictures and Charles LeMaire at Twentieth Century-Fox, and fashion designer Irene at her salon in Bullock's Wilshire. In addition to discussing her work on dozens of films including NOTORIOUS, THE GREAT MCGINTY, THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, Balkan outlines in great detail the workings of the studio wardrobe department. Balkan also describes her experience working on two epic films shot on location, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. The Academy also has the Adele Balkan Collection of costume design sketches.
Miss Booth (1898-2002) talks about her long career as a cutter and editorial supervisor at the MGM studios, and her subsequent work for Ray Stark and other producers. Films discussed include MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935 and 1962), ROMEO AND JULIET (1936) and THE WAY WE WERE.
Mr. Boyle (born 1909) discusses his work as a draftsman and assistant art director at Paramount in the 1930s, and his early work as an art director on Hitchcock's SABOTEUR and SHADOW OF A DOUBT. He goes on to describe his World War II service as a combat cameraman, his post-war work at RKO and his years in the Universal art department, where he designed many westerns and other genre pictures. He discusses working again with Hitchcock on NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE BIRDS and MARNIE, and talks about collaborating with a number of other directors including Norman Jewison, Richard Brooks and Don Siegel. In addition, the oral history contains a great deal of information about the field of production design, including discussions of matte painting, scenic backings, special effects, and location shooting.
Mr. Carfagno (1907-1996), who worked in the MGM art department from 1932 until the early 1970s, discusses the job of the studio art director, and describes working with many of MGM's top directors. The oral history includes detailed discussions of epic films like QUO VADIS and BEN-HUR, and is illustrated with stills from the MGM set stills collection. Mr. Carfagno also discusses his collaboration with director Clint Eastwood.
Mr. Cowan discusses the role his brother Lester Cowan (1907-1990) played in the formative years of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As Executive Secretary from 1931 to 1933 (he joined the staff in 1928), Lester Cowan supervised many Academy programs, including the first five Academy Award presentations and the activities of the Technical Bureau. Mr. Cowan also comments on Lester Cowan's resignation from the Academy staff, and his subsequent career as an independent producer.
This oral history with Mr. Crump (1904-1998) is entirely concerned with his tenure as film production chief of the U.S. Air Force's most important production center of World War II, the First Motion Picture Unit ("Fort Roach") located in Culver City. Also included in this history are the remembrances of Colonel Bob Elliott, his successor as Fort Roach commander, and William Graf, Fort Roach veteran and United States Army Air Force combat cameraman.
Marc Davis (1913-2000) speaks about his career in animation, spent entirely at the Disney Studios, beginning in the 1930s. Davis was a vital member of the production team behind Disney’s signature animated features, from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” and he discusses the creation of these films in some detail. The oral history also includes personal recollections of Walt Disney and the Disney studios, including the studio’s work during World War II; discussions of Disney animation techniques and personnel; and information concerning Mr. Davis’ extensive involvement, beginning in the 1960s, with the Disney theme parks.
Miss Day (born 1920) describes her childhood in Roosevelt, Utah and Long Beach, California, as well as her early career on stage and at the Paramount and RKO Radio studios. She goes on to discuss at length her career at MGM, where she appeared in seven Dr. Kildare films as well as a number of other features. She also discusses films she made on loan to other studios, including MY SON, MY SON!, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, and MR. LUCKY. After leaving MGM, Miss Day signed a contract with RKO, and she comments on her work at that studio as well, particularly on the film THE LOCKET. She goes on to discuss her extensive television work in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as her radio and theater appearances.
Philip Dunne was an Academy Award nominated American screenwriter, director, and producer. He was most active during the period of 1932-1965. He spent most of his career at 20th Century Fox writing screenplays for films such as How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), The Robe (1953) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965). Despite being vocally against the HUAC he remained professionally active during the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1940s and 1950s.
Mr. Elias (1899-1993) discusses his career as a vaudeville reviewer, theater publicist, MGM exploiteer/publicist and MGM shorts department general manager. He reminisces about such figures as Louis B. Mayer, Howard Strickling, Pete Smith, Fred Quimby, and many of his fellow publicists, as well as about the founding of the Publicists Guild. He also talks about many of his colleagues in the MGM cartoon department and comments on his tenure at UPA studios in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Finally, Mr. Elias discusses his involvement in the Academy, especially his thirty-seven years as a member of the Board of Governors.
A top production manager and executive producer, C. O. “Doc” Erickson (born 1923), comments on his 50-year career in the motion picture industry, during which he worked on such films as “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “The Misfits,” “Cleopatra,” “Chinatown” and “Blade Runner.” His role within the Paramount production department during the 1940s and 1950s is also discussed, as is the evolution of production management in feature films thereafter. Also recollected is Mr. Erickson’s work, during World War II, in an armament plant.
Mr. Fehr (1911-1999) discusses the entirety of his career, including his early life in Germany, both prior to and during the Nazi regime, his film experiences in Europe, his emigration to the United States, his marriage to the actress Maris Wrixon, and his forty-year association with Warner Bros., where he edited such films as WATCH ON THE RHINE, HUMORESQUE, KEY LARGO, HOUSE OF WAX, and DIAL M FOR MURDER. In the mid-1950s, Jack Warner entrusted Mr. Fehr with the oversight of all Warner Bros. post-production concerns, both motion pictures and television, and Mr. Fehr describes his work on most of the films Warner Bros. produced from 1955 through 1975. After leaving Warner Bros. in 1976, Mr. Fehr became involved with Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope studios, and he comments on ONE FROM THE HEART, HAMMETT, and other Zoetrope feature films. Mr. Fehr also discusses editing another feature release, PRIZZI'S HONOR, which earned him an Academy Award nomination.
In this joint oral history, Gene Fowler (1917-1960) and Marjorie Fowler (born 1920) discuss their work as film editors working with directors like Fritz Lang, Samuel Fuller and Nunnally Johnson, who was also Mrs. Fowler's father. Films discussed include THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, RUN OF THE ARROW, THE THREE FACES OF EVE, and ELMER GANTRY, as well as films Mr. Fowler worked on as a film editor in the Army Signal Corps during World War II. Mr. Fowler also describes working as director on pictures like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, SHOWDOWN AT BOOT HILL, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, and OREGON TRAIL.
William A. Fraker (1923-2010) recounts his four-decade career as a cinematographer, including his acclaimed work on "Rosemary's Baby" and "Bullitt," and his rewarding collaborations with directors Floyd Mutrux, Steven Spielberg, Martin Ritt, Andy Bergman and Charles Shyer. He also discusses his early career, when he frequently worked with Conrad Hall, and his forays into directing, with particular emphasis on "Monte Walsh." In addition, Fraker describes his involvement with the American Society of Cinematographers, the issues he faced as its president for three terms, and his ten years on the Academy's Board of Governors.
This in-depth oral history examines all phases of the multi-faceted producing career of Richard Goldstone (born 1912). After attending UCLA, Mr. Goldstone was hired in 1933 as a writer in the MGM short subjects department and later became the production supervisor of the department. During World War II, Mr. Goldstone served first in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, then in the U.S. Air Force, at the First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, and later on the Philippines and Okinawa. Mr. Goldstone discusses in detail his first feature production credit, THE SET-UP (1948), and the features following his return to MGM, including SCENE OF THE CRIME; THE TALL TARGET; THE OUTRIDERS and THE DEVIL MAKES THREE. In the early 1950s Mr. Goldstone became a producer and executive for the successful industrial-film and travel-film company, Dudley Pictures, for whom he produced and co-directed the Cinerama feature, SOUTH SEAS ADVENTURE. Other features Mr. Goldstone produced include NO MAN IS AN ISLAND (which he also co-wrote); RAGE; THE SERGEANT; and THE BABY MAKER. For television, Mr. Goldstone produced ADVENTURES IN PARADISE and PEYTON PLACE.
Mr. Golitzen (born 1908) talks about his early career as a sketch artist at MGM and at the Goldwyn studios and his long affiliation with Universal Pictures, first as a unit art director and later as supervising art director for the studio. Films discussed include FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, SCARLET STREET, LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, and SPARTACUS, as well as a number of Goldwyn films from the 1930s and many Universal westerns and adventure films.
In this oral history, Mr. Gunzburg (1910-1991) recounts the story of Natural Vision, his corporation organized for the development of equipment for the production of three-dimensional motion pictures, and for the distribution of Polaroid viewing glasses through an exclusive contract with that corporation. Natural Vision was involved in the production of BWANA DEVIL, HOUSE OF WAX, and THE CHARGE AT FEATHER RIVER during a period when Hollywood was fascinated by 3-D. Mr. Gunzburg also discusses his early life in Los Angeles and his career as a screenwriter. The Academy also has the M. L. Gunzburg Collection.
Curtis Harrington (1926-2007) recollects his life as a director and producer of short films, feature films and television. Mr. Harrington discusses his early career as an avant-garde filmmaker and his creative association with Kenneth Anger, as well as his subsequent turn toward commercial features and his affiliation with producer Jerry Wald in the 1950s. He describes making his first feature, “Night Tide,” which was an underground hit, and directing such well-regarded films as “Games,” “What’s The Matter With Helen?” and “The Killing Kind.” Mr. Harrington also discusses his television directing credits, and the production of his 2003 film “Usher.”
Mr. Jaffe (1901-2000) discusses his early years in the movie business, starting in 1916 at Paramount in New York and continuing through his work as a production manager with B. P. Schulberg Productions and at Paramount in the 1920s and early 1930s. He also shares his observations and recollections of being a top Hollywood agent for twenty-five years, and describes producing films like THE SULLIVANS and BORN FREE.
Hal Kanter (born 1918) talks about his long career which has included screenwriting and directing, as well as work in the Armed Forces Radio Service, and on radio and television series. He discusses being a comedy writer on various radio programs, including THE BING CROSBY SHOW, and his work on the television series THE ED WYNN SHOW and THE GEORGE GOBEL SHOW. He describes working with Bob Hope, Martin and Lewis, and Elvis Presley, as well as with producer Hal Wallis on numerous films including ABOUT MRS. LESLIE, THE ROSE TATTOO, and LOVING YOU. He also discusses his many years as a writer on Academy Awards shows.
Pioneering documentarian, screenwriter, and director Herbert Kline (1909-1999) reviews his life, as it was defined by the events leading to World War II, and by the blacklisting subsequent to the war. Mr. Kline recalls his tenure as the editor of “New Theatre and Film,” and comments upon progressive theater and Communism in America in the 1930s. He goes on to recount his experiences as a documentary filmmaker on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War (where he made “Heart of Spain” and “Return to Life”) and during the Second World War, and his career at MGM, where he worked on such films as “Journey for Margaret,” “The Kid from Cleveland” and “The Fighter.” Mr. Kline also describes his subsequent blacklisting in the 1950s, and his later return to credited filmmaking as the director of documentaries like “Walls of Fire” and “The Challenge...A Tribute to Modern Art.”
Mr. Lesser (born 1915) reviews his experiences growing up in Hollywood as the son of influential film producer Sol Lesser. He also describes his service as an important film distribution officer for the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, his career as both a film and television producer, and his involvement with the Academy documentary committee.
The highly respected actor Karl Malden (born 1912) recalls his career in theater, motion pictures and television. The discussion focuses on some of the films and activities not described in detail in Mr. Malden’s 1997 memoir, When Do I Start? These include his performances in films like “The Gunfighter,” “Take the High Ground!,” “The Great Imposter,” “Billion Dollar Brain,” “Hot Millions” and “Wild Rovers,” and his work as the director of the 1957 production “Time Limit.” From 1989 to 1992, Mr. Malden was President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he shares his experiences as a member, as well as a leader, of the organization.
Mrs. Morgan (born 1910), daughter of film and theater composer Louis Gottschalk, discusses her career as a script supervisor at RKO, beginning in the 1930s in the shorts department with producer Lou Brock and directors such as Mark Sandrich and George Stevens. She went on to work on feature films such as FLYING DOWN TO RIO, MELODY CRUISE, WINTERSET, and BREAKFAST FOR TWO. Mrs. Morgan also discusses her brief stint working at the Disney Studios as a sound editor, and relates her experiences working as a script supervisor for television programs in the 1960s and 1970s such as DRAGNET and THE ODD COUPLE.
Kathleen Morris discusses her first husband, the artist George Stanley (1903-1970), who designed and executed the Academy Award statuette. She recollects details about Mr. Stanley’s background and training, and describes how he was commissioned by Cedric Gibbons to sculpt the statuette. She also talks about attending the first Academy Award presentation in 1929 with Mr. Stanley.
Mr. Moss (1909-1997) discusses his work in radio and in the Federal Theatre Project, where he worked with John Houseman and Orson Welles. He also talks about working with film producer Oscar Micheaux in the 1930s. He describes in detail the writing, production and reception of THE NEGRO SOLDIER, a groundbreaking U.S. Army film about black troops in World War II, and discusses his experiences in Europe making the film TEAMWORK. Mr. Moss also talks about his post-war career in educational film, and comments extensively on the subject of African-American film and filmmakers, and the issue of racism in the motion picture industry.
Hal Needham (born 1931) discusses his colorful career as a stuntman, stunt coordinator and second-unit director for film and television. He also talks about his work as a director of a series of light-hearted action films starring Burt Reynolds, including the box office hit “Smokey and the Bandit.” In addition, Mr. Needham describes co-founding the company Stunts Unlimited, and his efforts to improve stunt technology and safety procedures for stunt performers. He also discusses developing the Shotmaker camera car and crane, which garnered the Academy's Scientific and Engineering Award in 1986.
In this in-depth oral history, Mr. Newman (born 1909) describes his long and varied career which began at MGM when he was fifteen years old. He worked as a script clerk, assistant director, second unit director and shorts director at MGM, and directed his first feature, NORTHWEST RANGERS, for that studio in 1942. After a four-year stint in the Army directing training and morale films (including DIARY OF A SERGEANT featuring Harold Russell), Mr. Newman returned to Hollywood and his directing career. He directed twenty-five features, including 711 OCEAN DRIVE, LUCKY NICK CAIN, RED SKIES OF MONTANA, DANGEROUS CROSSING, THE HUMAN JUNGLE, THIS ISLAND EARTH, FLIGHT TO HONG KONG, FORT MASSACRE, THE BIG CIRCUS, THE GEORGE RAFT STORY, and KING OF THE ROARING 20s. He later moved into television directing, working primarily on THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
Leo C. Popkin (born 1914) provides an account of his varied career as an exhibitor and producer, in partnership with his brother Harry, as well as his work as a screenwriter and director. The Popkins were successful Los Angeles exhibitors and promoters, notably via their ownership of the Million Dollar Theater, and Mr. Popkin recounts incidents of their decades as showmen. He also discusses their company, Million Dollar Productions, which produced a number of black-cast films in the 1930s and 1940s, several of which were also directed by Mr. Popkin. He also recalls the Popkin brothers’ transition into mainstream production, particularly with the well-regarded films “D.O.A.,” “The Thief” and “The Well,” which were made in association with Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse.
Mrs. Robertson (1916-1998) discusses her career as a script supervisor in the British film industry during the 1940s, and her first assignments working with Alfred Hitchcock as his script supervisor on "Under Capricorn" and as an assistant on "Stage Fright." After a stint working for American producer Sol Lesser in London, Robertson moved to the United States and reunited with Hitchcock, working closely with him on all of his films from "Vertigo" to "Family Plot." As Hitchcock's assistant, Robertson was also a valuable associate between film projects, when she looked for story properties and dealt with correspondence, talent, and publicity. Robertson's oral history provides an intimate look at Hitchcock from the perspective of one of his closest long-term collaborators.
This oral history with Donald C. Rogers (born 1931) provides his observations on a distinguished career in post-production. Mr. Rogers describes working, beginning in the 1950s, at Twentieth Century-Fox, Todd-AO, and Goldwyn Sound, companies where he participated in the production of films like “South Pacific,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Spartacus,” “The Sound of Music,” “Chinatown” and “Star Wars.” He also discusses his career as a post-production executive at Warner Bros., and his work on films like “Raging Bull,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Unforgiven.” A member of the Academy’s Sci-Tech Committee, as well as for several terms the Academy Board of Governors, Mr. Rogers also comments on the Academy and its role in the technology of motion pictures.
Mr. Salter (1896-1994) recollects his long and productive career, which dates back to 1922. He discusses conducting in movie theaters in Vienna and Berlin, the early sound years when he was composing and compiling music at UFA, and his emigration to America. A composer in the U.S. from 1938, Mr. Salter worked on hundreds of scores, ranging from horror movies and Deanna Durbin musicals to westerns and period films.
Miss Simone (1907-1991), an accomplished musician who began her career as a concert pianist, describes her important role as part of MGM's legendary Freed Unit, where she assisted in the production of motion pictures like ON THE TOWN, SHOW BOAT and GIGI. She offers keen observations about many of the writers, directors, actors, dancers and choreographers who worked within the Freed Unit.
Film editor Fredrick Y. Smith (1903-1991) recounts his youth in California and in Asia, and his early career as a studio projectionist for First National Pictures in Burbank. He describes becoming a film editor, working in Britain and France in the early 1930s, and returning to the U.S. to MGM, where he remained—excluding his service as a combat cameraman for the U.S. Navy in World War II—until the early 1950s. He also discusses later editing assignments at other studios.
Mr. Spivack (1903-1994) discusses his early career as a percussionist in New York, which led to a job as a sound effects man at RKO in 1929, where he worked on many films including KING KONG. He talks about leaving RKO and going on to jobs at Fox and Republic before being hired at Twentieth Century-Fox, where he eventually became the chief music mixer and the head of the re-recording panel. He also describes working as a freelance music and re-recording mixer on many of the big films of the 1950s and 1960s, and winning an Academy Award for his work on HELLO, DOLLY!
Mr. Taradash (born 1913) discusses his early work as a playwright in New York and his years in the U.S. Army at the Signal Corps Photographic Center during World War II. He goes on to describe his career as a screenwriter on films such as KNOCK ON ANY DOOR; RANCHO NOTORIOUS; PICNIC; BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE; and STORM CENTER, which he also directed. Mr. Taradash gives a thorough account of his Academy Award-winning work as the screenwriter of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. In addition, he discusses his extensive involvement with the Writers Guild of America and his tenure as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
An assistant director at RKO and Enterprise in the 1940s, Mr. Van Schmus (born 1919) joined the Production Code Administration staff in 1949. His oral history explores every aspect of working with the Code, from the daily office routine to meeting with studio personnel. Many of the PCA case files, which are housed here at the library, are examined and discussed, as is the eventual transition from the Code to the ratings system.
In this oral history, recorded under the auspices of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council, Petro Vlahos (born 1916) discusses his distinguished career as an engineer in the motion picture industry, including his many contributions to film and television technology. He outlines his work for the Motion Picture Research Council, his tenure at the Research Center of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and the accomplishments of his companies Ultramatte and Vlahos Motion Pictures, Inc. Mr. Vlahos also describes the many important innovations, particularly in the area of composite photography and traveling mattes, that led to his numerous awards and commendations, including the Academy's prestigious Gordon Sawyer Award.
In this oral history, Mr. Vogel (1899-1995) describes his forty-year career as an executive at MGM, where he was head of the foreign department and in charge of foreign publicity, and served as Production Code liaison, among other responsibilities. He also discusses his years as an Academy member, particularly his work with the Foreign Language Film Award committee and the Documentary Committee.
Mr. Weinberger (1900-1997) discusses his childhood in the early 1900s, his service in the Canadian Army in World War I, life in the Merchant Marines, his stint as an assistant director at MGM in the 1930s, his service as a combat cameraman for the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, and his subsequent career as a production manager and assistant director.
In this oral history recorded under the auspices of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council, J. Arthur Widmer (1914-2006) discusses his important contributions to film technology, beginning with his work at the Kodak Research Laboratory and continuing as the Kodak liaison to the motion picture studios in the late 1940s. He also describes his work in the Warner Bros. lab and the Universal optical department, and explains his important innovations related to film stock, visual effects, and other key advancements in film technology.
Academy Award winning film editor Ralph Winters (1909-2004) recollects his long career, which began at MGM in the 1920s and spanned more than six decades. Mr. Winters describes his early work as an assistant editor and an editor of trailers and shorts, and his transition into editing feature films like “Gaslight “and “On the Town.” He goes on to discuss his work as one of the top editors at MGM in the 1950s, when he edited many of the studio's biggest productions, including “King Solomon's Mines,” “Quo Vadis” and “Ben-Hur.” Mr. Winters also talks about his longtime collaboration, beginning in the 1960s, with director Blake Edwards, as well as his work with other filmmakers like Billy Wilder, and he comments on his involvement with the editors' union and the Academy.
Following four decades as a camera assistant, laboratory technician, sound mixer, operating cameraman, and cinematographer for films and television, Lothrop Worth (1903-2000) gives an account of his multifaceted career, which began in 1927 with Cecil B. De Mille’s “King of Kings.” Mr. Worth describes his early stint as a sound recordist at RKO and his work as a Paramount operating cameraman during the 1930s and 1940s, as well as his collaboration with Paramount cinematographer Theodor Sparkuhl, as both a camera assistant and an operating cameraman on numerous films, including “If I Were King,” “Beau Geste” and “The Glass Key.” Mr. Worth also expresses his views about the labor movement, in which he was active, and gives an authoritative account of his involvement with the 3-D system Natural Vision in the early 1950s. He also comments on his subsequent film and television credits as a cinematographer.
Mr. Zukor (1897-1994), the son of motion picture industry pioneer and Paramount founder Adolph Zukor, discusses his forty-year affiliation with Paramount Pictures, beginning in 1915 when he went to work in the studio publicity department. Mr. Zukor comments extensively on Paramount's corporate and financial history, including its success in the 1910s and 1920s, its extensive distribution and exhibition divisions, and its bankruptcy and reorganization in the 1930s. He also comments on the effects of the government's anti-trust suit against Paramount. In addition, Mr. Zukor discusses his service in the U.S. Navy during both World War I and World War II, his work in Paramount's talent department in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and his tenure at MGM in the early 1960s.