Gregg Toland

Director of photography, Office boy, Assistant cameraman
During the deeply entrenched days of the Hollywood studio system, cinematographer Gregg Toland's technical and visual innovations set him apart from the flock of doctrinaire technicians and engineers embedded in the ... Read more »
Born: 05/29/1904 in Charleston, Illinois, USA

Filmography

Camera, Film, & Tape (44)

The Best Years of Our Lives 1946 (Movie)

cinematography (Cinematographer)

The Kid From Brooklyn 1945 (Movie)

(Photography)

The Outlaw 1943 (Movie)

(Photography)

Ball of Fire 1942 (Movie)

cinematography (Cinematographer)

Citizen Kane 1941 (Movie)

(Director of Photography)

The Grapes of Wrath 1940 (Movie)

(Director of Photography)

The Little Foxes 1940 (Movie)

(Photography)

The Long Voyage Home 1940 (Movie)

(Director of Photography)

Wuthering Heights 1939 (Movie)

cinematography (Cinematographer)

Intermezzo 1938 (Movie)

(Photography)

They Shall Have Music 1938 (Movie)

(Photography)

The Cowboy and the Lady 1937 (Movie)

(Photography)

The Goldwyn Follies 1937 (Movie)

(Photography)

Come and Get It 1936 (Movie)

cinematography (Cinematographer)

Dead End 1936 (Movie)

(Director of Photography)

These Three 1935 (Movie)

(Photography)

The Dark Angel 1934 (Movie)

(Photography)

The Kid From Spain 1931 (Movie)

(Photography)

Tonight or Never 1930 (Movie)

(Photography)

A Song Is Born (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Beloved Enemy (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Bulldog Drummond (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Condemned (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Enchantment (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Forsaking All Others (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

History is Made at Night (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Man Wanted (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Palmy Days (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Raffles (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Roman Scandals (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Song of the South (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Strike Me Pink (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

The Devil to Pay (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

The Masquerader (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

The Road to Glory (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

The Tenderfoot (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

The Trespasser (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

The Unholy Garden (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

The Wedding Night (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

The Westerner (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

This Is Heaven (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Tugboat Annie (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

We Live Again (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Whoopee! (Movie)

(Cinematographer)

Biography

During the deeply entrenched days of the Hollywood studio system, cinematographer Gregg Toland's technical and visual innovations set him apart from the flock of doctrinaire technicians and engineers embedded in the formulaic studio factories. He was that rarity among technicians--a cinematographer eager to accept technological advances and apply them creatively to the narrative film form. Toland's talent was readily accepted by the Hollywood establishment, who graced him with a charmed life amid the workmanlike atmosphere pervading most studio productions. Contracted throughout his career to Samuel Goldwyn (although he was lent to other producers), Toland was permitted more freedom than most cinematographers of his time, from being allowed his choice of crew and story properties to converting studio cameras to his own specifications. Working with such outstanding directors as Howard Hawks, William Wyler, John Ford and Orson Welles, Toland was in the unique position of incorporating technological innovations into equally innovative narrative frameworks.

As a child, Toland attended technical school to study electrical engineering. At 15, Toland left school for Hollywood, where he found a position as an office boy for a Hollywood film studio. Developing an interest in camerawork, it wasn't long before he became an assistant to George Barnes. By the time Toland was 27, he had become a first cameraman, the youngest in Hollywood.

In Toland's early work, in films such as "Les Miserables" (1935), "Dead End" (1937), "Intermezzo" (1939), "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), "The Long Voyage Home" (1940), and "Wuthering Heights" (1939), he consciously rejected the soft focus, one-plane depth of the established Hollywood house style and strove for a more jarring, razor-sharp black-and-white, employing recent advances in photography that included the use of high-powered Technicolor arc lamps for black-and-white productions, Super XX film stock (a 1938 Kodak stock four times faster than its previous stock without any increase in graininess), lens coating (to cut down on glare) and self-blimped cameras (permitting filming in confined spaces). "The Long Voyage Home" is a milestone in the evolution of Toland's technical experimentation, enlisting high contrast black-and-white film, deep focus (with foreground, middle-ground, and background all in sharp focus), the self-blimped camera, ceilinged sets, low-angle lighting, shots composed into light sources and Germanic expressionism. But John Ford's turgid Eugene O'Neill mood piece was not an ideal showcase for Toland's technical wizardry, which required a bright, high-voltage directorial presence in which to display his innovations.

Toland once said, "I want to work with someone who's never made a movie. That's the only way to learn anything--from someone who doesn't know anything." In Orson Welles, Toland found a fresh perspective and vision outside of the Hollywood mainstream and in "Citizen Kane" (1941), he consolidated his bone-crisp look into a personal style, upsetting Hollywood cinematographic conventions in its wake. "Kane" synthesized Toland's deep focus experiments with Welles' directorial flourishes of fluid, moving camera shots and long takes, rejecting the standard Hollywood technique of intercutting. Welles and Toland achieved a heightened reality of space and time that exposed the artifice of the Hollywood house style, revitalizing Hollywood narrative forms and shaking up complacent technical and creative personnel.

At first Toland's deep-focus technique was considered too radical a departure from Hollywood norms. Moreover, Toland's fellow cinematographers found the films that succeeded "Kane," "The Little Foxes" and "Ball of Fire" (both 1941), too visually dense and confusing, and they complained that Toland's exaggerated depth-of-field sacrificed compositional roundness and rendered the image cartoonish.

After completing "Ball of Fire," Toland was drafted into wartime service with John Ford's OSS photographic unit, with which he shot Ford's memorable documentary, "December 7th" (1943). Toland was in the process of toning down his bravura technique into a more adaptable style, when, at 44, he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1948.

Where Toland rebelled in the 1930s against the prevalent style, by the end of the 1940s, Toland's technique had become the "new" Hollywood style, a transformation that invigorated a moribund classical cinema through the late 1940s and into the 1950s, until the advent of television and cheap cinematic gimmicks marked the fragmentation of the Hollywood system.

Milestones

1942

Co-directed short documentary film (with John Ford), "December 7th"

1929

Signed to contract by Samuel Goldwyn, for whom he worked throughout the rest of his career

1929

Became lighting cameraman

Lieutenant in army camera department during WWII

Began as office boy aged 15; became assistant camera operator

Bonus Trivia

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Toland pioneered in the adoption of new camera techniques such as the use of coated lenses and faster film stocks and is best remembered for his use of deep-focus compositions in Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" (1940) and William Wyler's "The Little Foxes" (1943) and "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946).

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"The cameraman should always work in close collaboration with the scriptwriter and director before production. Each film should have its own particular style. A comedy and a tragedy should not be photographed in the same way: "The Grapes of Wrath", a harsh film; "The Long Voyage Home", a character film; "Citizen Kane", a psychological story in which the external realities were very important. It was marvelous to produce with Orson Welles. I made suggestions to him and tried out things I had wanted to try for a very long time. Camera movements should not be apparent because they distract attention from the actors and from what's happening."--Gregg Toland ("Dictionary of Filmmakers" by George Sadoul)

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