the American Cinematographer's November 1985 issue, a full
front page tribute by the General Camera Company in stark
black and white simply read: "ARTHUR JACOB ORNITZ: HE LIGHTED
TO WAY FOR OTHERS TO FOLLOW". It was a fitting tribute to
a man who was one of the great cinematographers of his generation
and whose work today is still highly regarded by everyone
in the film industry.
Arthur Ornitz was born in New York City
on November 28, 1917. His parents, Samuel and Sadie Ornitz
moved their family from New York to Hollywood, California
when Arthur was still a child. The move was the result of
an invitation Samuel Ornitz received from one of the major
Hollywood studios to work as a screenwriter after the successful
reception of his book, Haunch, Paunch and Jowl,
considered to this day as a classic novel of Jewish life
about New York's lower East Side. The family remained in
Hollywood. Samuel Ornitz was one of the founding members
of the Screen Writer's Guild. He was one of the Hollywood
Arthur Ornitz's career as a cinematographer
started during a summer vacation, while he was still
in high school. His mother, Sadie Ornitz, a strong
minded woman, did not want her boys to be idle during
the summer. To keep them occupied, she hired Gunter
Fritsch, a famous German cinematographer, newly
arrived from Nazi Germany, unemployed and in need
of money to teach Arthur and his younger brother,
Donald, the rudiments of photography. In addition
to his fascination with photography, the intellectual
stimulation and ambiance in the Ornitz home while
he was growing up, listening to people talking about
making films, greatly influenced Arthur Ornitz's
decision to focus on film as his life's work.
Ornitz made his first short documentary,
Wanted a Master with Pete Smith, who was the head
of the Short Subjects Department at that time at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The film was nominated for an Academy award. Ornitz was
only 22 years old and just beginning to learn his craft
when he was asked by Joris Ivens to work on the documentary
film, The Power and the Land. Because of his respect
for Ivens, Ornitz was eager to be a part of this production.
Ornitz knew Ivens' reputation as a Dutch film maker and
had enormous respect for him as a creative film person.
Ornitz and Ivens met again in Paris after the war and it
was obvious they still had a great deal of warmth and admiration
for each other.