4.7.1889 – 1.5.1983
Photo caption: Joseph Ruttenberg ASC BSC receives his Oscar for THE GREAT WALTZ from James Wong Howe ASC (1938)
JOSEPH RUTTENBERG ASC BSC
JOSEPH RUTTENBERG ASC was an American cinematographer who was invited to join the BSC in 1951 as a non-resident member.
Ruttenberg was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1893, at the age of four, his family moved to the United States, eventually settling in Boston. After schooling, he got his first job in 1907 working as a newsboy and personal runner for William Randolph Hearst's newspaper 'Boston American'. He was trained in reporting and as a still photographer and dark room technician. By 1914, he produced his own weekly newsreels for a local Loew's theatre, and, within another year, was employed as an assistant cameraman with the Fox Film Corporation in New York. There, he perfected his craft over the next eleven years, rising from assistant cameraman to full cinematographer with a weekly salary of $175. His first silent film as cinematographer was The Painted Madonna (1917) directed by Oscar A.C. Lund.
He then moved over to Paramount's Kaufman Astoria Studios, where he worked under the supervision of the experienced George J. Folsey on several short features.
In 1933, Ruttenberg decided to ply his trade in Hollywood, now that the transition to sound pictures had been successfully made. He had brief spells with RKO and Warners, before putting up his tent at MGM for the greater part of his long and distinguished career (1934-1963) and where he was invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers.
He became an innovator in his use of cranes and dolly devices, often designed to capture scenes in a single take. Another distinguishing aspect of his camerawork was to keep the performers in sharp focus, while softening the background, thus highlighting the actors almost three-dimensionally, while also creating a sense of immediacy. Ruttenberg shot some of MGM's finest black-and-white films of the 30's and 40's, his lighting (which he often took charge of personally, rather than assigning assistants) providing the exact ingredients required to create the right atmosphere in each instance: Fury (1936) directed by Frtiz Lang, Three Comrades (1938) directed by Frank Borzage, Waterloo Bridge (1940) directed by Mervyn LeRoy, The Philadelphia Story (1940) directed by George Cukor, Mrs. Miniver (1942) directed by William Wyler and Random Harvest (1942) directed by Mervyn LeRoy, to name but a few.
During the 1950's, Ruttenberg proved just as adept at colour photography, winning a Golden Globe award for his work on Brigadoon (1954) directed by Vincente Minelli, and his fourth Academy Award for the musical Gigi (1958) also directed by Vincente Minelli. Among his six unsuccessful nominations, he received the last for BUtterfield 8 (1960) directed by Daniel Mann, creating some of the most enduring images of Elizabeth Taylor at her peak. He free-lanced for a few years after leaving MGM and finally retired in 1968. He was honoured by the American Society of Cinematographers Milestone award.
WATERLOO BRIDGE (1939)
DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (1941)
MADAM CURIE (1943)
JULIUS CAESAR (1953)
BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960)
THE GREAT WALTZ (1938)
MRS MINIVER (1942)
SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (1956)