William Edward Cronenweth: A Legacy in Photos

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William Edward Cronenweth photographing Rita Hayworth (1947)

In my ongoing quest to learn more about the talented men and women who were responsible for taking the imaginative studio portraits and set photos we all love but too often take for granted, I recently became fascinated with the work of William Edward Cronenweth. Trying to compile information about the man was difficult and I often ran into obstacles while attempting to learn more about his life and work. Cronenwerth’s name is rarely mentioned in the various books I’ve read about studio photography and if it is, the information tends to be sparse and inconsistent. Hopefully this brief portrait I’ve compiled will shine some light on Cronenweth’s considerable contributions to Hollywood’s glamorous history.

William Edward Cronenweth was born in Wilkensburg, Pennsylvania in 1903. His father owned a camera shop, which undoubtedly sparked his own interest in photography. The Cronenweth family eventually relocated to Los Angeles and while attending high-school in 1918 young William began working for Famous Players-Lasky as a cameraman’s assistant. At age 17 Cronenweth was hired by Universal Pictures as an assistant cameraman and although he often went unaccredited, he apparently worked on many films for the studio between 1920-1925, including Wallace Worsley‘s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) starring Lon Chaney in one of his most memorable roles. In 1926 Cronenweth’s career took a different turn when he accepted a job as a still photographer at Warner Brothers and this quickly led to more work with Paramount as well as Universal. By 1928, Cronenweth had begun working exclusively with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and for the next 10 years he regularly shot film stills as well as star portraits for MGM.

During this period Cronenweth often collaborated with actor Clark Gable and helped develop Gable’s on screen persona as one of Hollywood’s most desirable leading men. His still photos and promo shots for films such as DANCING LADY (1933), SAN FRANCISCO (1936), SARATOGA (1937) and TOO HOT TO HANDLE (193) were so popular with Gable’s fans that one of them was used in the 1938 production of BROADWAY MELODY, which featured a young Judy Garland singing “You Made Me Love You” to a scrapbook full of Gable’s portraits. In 1941 Cronenweth received a special Academy Award for his still photography, a category that has long since been abolished. The award was presented to Conenweth for his dynamic portrait of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney that captured the stars in a lighthearted dance maneuver. Today’s Cronenweth’s photographs are often recognizable because they seemed to reveal a more playful and active side of his subjects. He enjoyed demonstrating movement, which was probably an expression of his early work as an assistant director on motion pictures and his photos frequently depicted actors in lively poses.

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Top: Judy Garland with Clark Gable’s photo (1938)
Center: Clark Gable with William Edward Cronenweth
Bottom: Cronenweth’s award winning photo of Judy Garland & Mickey Rooney (1941)

By 1942 Cronenweth was one of the most recognizable photographers working in Hollywood and he decided to accept a position with Columbia Pictures that would last for more than 15 years. During his time with Columbia, Cronenweth photographed many of Hollywood’s biggest stars but he developed special relationships with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford. The two actors selected Cronenweth as their favorite still photographer and he shot some of their best portraits. His work with Rita Hayworth is particularly stunning and seemed to recognize the various and complex aspects of her character. Cronenweth’s photos encapsulate the contrary elements that Hayworth so often brought to the screen. In front of Cronenweth’s camera Hayworth is playful and thoughtful, sexy and demure, smiling and somber.

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Top: Cronenweth portraits of Glenn Ford & Rita Hayworth
Bottom: One of Cronenweth’s promo photos for the LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

Besides producing stunning portraits of many Hollywood stars, Cronenweth continued to work as a still photographer on the set of many of Columbia’s pictures. Some of his varied credits during this time include THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947), JOHNNY O’CLOCK (1947), THE LOVES OF CARMEN (1948), THE WILD ONE (1953), THE CAINE MUTINY (1954), PAL JOEY (1957) and THE TINGLER (1959). His impressive career as a studio photographer came to a sudden end in 1966 when his back was badly injured during the filming of the WW2 drama, PT 109. I haven’t been able to find any detailed accounts of the accident that caused his injury but it was so severe that Cronenweth decided to retire at age 63.

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One of Cronenweth’s promo photos for THE WILD ONE

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Vincent Price in THE TINGLER (1959) – Dick Powell & Evelyn Keyes in JOHNNY O’CLOCK (1947)

It’s unfortunate that his career ended so early but the legacy that Cronenweth left behind continued to find new avenues of expression after his retirement. William Edward Cronenweth and his wife Rosita (a Busby Berkeley dancer) are the parents of Jordan Cronenweth, a celebrated cinematographer who worked on many notable films and music documentaries including PLAY IT AS IT LAYS (1972), ROLLING THUNDER (1977), ALTERED STATES (1980), BLADE RUNNER (1982), STOP MAKING SENSE (1984), PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986) and U2: RATTLE AND HUM (1988), which all undoubtedly owe a sliver of credit to William. And today audiences are probably most familiar with the cinematography of Cronenweth’s grandson, Jeff who’s best known for his celebrated work with director David Fincher on FIGHT CLUB (1999), THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2012). The Cronenwerth family has had a long and fascinating history in Hollywood and it can all be traced back to William Edward Cronenwerth’s hard work and talent, which left an indelible mark on the City of Angels. Information about William Edward Cronenweth is scarce considering the family legacy he started but not all that surprising. The work of studio photographers often goes unaccredited and it can be difficult and time-consuming process to research their accomplishments. Hopefully this brief look at Cronenweth’s career has helped shine a light on his contributions to film history that continue on in the work of his son and grandson.

What follows is a small selection of William Edward Cronenweth’s photos. Hope you enjoy the eye-candy!

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Marilyn Monroe

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Rosalind Russell

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Myrna Loy & Ann Miller

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Joan Crawford

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Jane Fonda

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Paulette Goddard

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Carole Landis & Ginger Rogers

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Ann Sothern

References:
American Cinematographer (issue #73)
Masters of Starlight: Photographers in Hollywood
Untitled TV website – The Cronenweths

40 Responses William Edward Cronenweth: A Legacy in Photos
Posted By Richard B : January 17, 2013 6:44 pm

As the owner of several reference works on the Academy Awards, I’ve never seen any mention of them awarding a prize (Honorary, Special, Technical or otherwise) to William Edward Cronenweth, or ever having a category for still photgraphy.

Posted By Richard B : January 17, 2013 6:44 pm

As the owner of several reference works on the Academy Awards, I’ve never seen any mention of them awarding a prize (Honorary, Special, Technical or otherwise) to William Edward Cronenweth, or ever having a category for still photgraphy.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 17, 2013 7:01 pm

Richard – It’s a shame isn’t it? As I said in my post, much of the information about Cronenweth has been lost or forgotten, which is why I felt compelled to write this. You can find information about the award he received in American Cinematographer (issue #73), Masters of Starlight: Photographers in Hollywood and on the Untitled TV website, which contains an official (but brief) biography for Croenweth’s grandsons: http://www.untitled.tv/#/the-cronenweths/4549612177

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 17, 2013 7:01 pm

Richard – It’s a shame isn’t it? As I said in my post, much of the information about Cronenweth has been lost or forgotten, which is why I felt compelled to write this. You can find information about the award he received in American Cinematographer (issue #73), Masters of Starlight: Photographers in Hollywood and on the Untitled TV website, which contains an official (but brief) biography for Croenweth’s grandsons: http://www.untitled.tv/#/the-cronenweths/4549612177

Posted By Doug : January 17, 2013 9:12 pm

Kimberly, thank you for this fine post. He was indeed an artist; these days when everyone’s cell phone captures images I fear that the art of photography is losing prestige.
Looking at the images you have posted (eye candy indeed!) I like the staging where the subject is looking out of frame, as if something interesting is happening to the left, right, or above.

Posted By Doug : January 17, 2013 9:12 pm

Kimberly, thank you for this fine post. He was indeed an artist; these days when everyone’s cell phone captures images I fear that the art of photography is losing prestige.
Looking at the images you have posted (eye candy indeed!) I like the staging where the subject is looking out of frame, as if something interesting is happening to the left, right, or above.

Posted By Richard B : January 17, 2013 11:53 pm

Hmm here’s what Corbis has on file at http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/BE033997/judy-garland-dancing-with-mickey-rooney-1941:

“Original caption:4/14/1941-Hollywood, CA: The “still photographer” comes to his own in Hollywood. He is the unsung cameraman who makes the pictures that are used for display and publicity purposes. In the still photo show of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Ed Cronenweth came out with first prize for his action still of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.”

Posted By Richard B : January 17, 2013 11:53 pm

Hmm here’s what Corbis has on file at http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/BE033997/judy-garland-dancing-with-mickey-rooney-1941:

“Original caption:4/14/1941-Hollywood, CA: The “still photographer” comes to his own in Hollywood. He is the unsung cameraman who makes the pictures that are used for display and publicity purposes. In the still photo show of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Ed Cronenweth came out with first prize for his action still of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.”

Posted By marina72 : January 18, 2013 8:58 am

His photos of Marilyn at Columbia – in make-up, and doing yoga – are among my favourites of her. Thanks for this article!

Posted By marina72 : January 18, 2013 8:58 am

His photos of Marilyn at Columbia – in make-up, and doing yoga – are among my favourites of her. Thanks for this article!

Posted By swac44 : January 18, 2013 10:13 am

That Judy Garland ode to her character’s favourite movie star is a great early moment in her career, her version is even prefaced with the title Dear Mr. Gable, although I’ve heard subsequent versions of the song You Made Me Love You that omit the references to him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-5PGkg1yg0

Posted By swac44 : January 18, 2013 10:13 am

That Judy Garland ode to her character’s favourite movie star is a great early moment in her career, her version is even prefaced with the title Dear Mr. Gable, although I’ve heard subsequent versions of the song You Made Me Love You that omit the references to him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-5PGkg1yg0

Posted By Stacia : January 18, 2013 10:45 am

Wonderful post! Cronenweth’s photos are outstanding.

I’m so glad you posted this. I spend a lot of time trying to find the photographers of all the stills I find, often only being able to make out a few letters of a name embossed in the corner, and am almost always thwarted. In a very selfish way, I hope you’re planning on more posts about other photographers too!

Posted By Stacia : January 18, 2013 10:45 am

Wonderful post! Cronenweth’s photos are outstanding.

I’m so glad you posted this. I spend a lot of time trying to find the photographers of all the stills I find, often only being able to make out a few letters of a name embossed in the corner, and am almost always thwarted. In a very selfish way, I hope you’re planning on more posts about other photographers too!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 2:54 pm

Doug – Glad you appreciated the post. It’s easy to take these classic publicity stills for granted but there was a real art to them.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 2:54 pm

Doug – Glad you appreciated the post. It’s easy to take these classic publicity stills for granted but there was a real art to them.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 3:06 pm

Richard – Interesting stuff so thanks for sharing. I suspect the award was only given out once, much like the Academy Juvenile Award at the 33rd Academy Awards and because it was a technical award it’s been forgotten. It’s really odd that it’s not mentioned in more books though but I have no reason to doubt the Cronenweth family or a highly respected publication like American Cinematographer.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 3:06 pm

Richard – Interesting stuff so thanks for sharing. I suspect the award was only given out once, much like the Academy Juvenile Award at the 33rd Academy Awards and because it was a technical award it’s been forgotten. It’s really odd that it’s not mentioned in more books though but I have no reason to doubt the Cronenweth family or a highly respected publication like American Cinematographer.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 3:09 pm

marina – His Monroe photos are really wonderful. I came across a whole page of them online that you (and anyone else who’s interested) can find here: http://dudu.com/57848/photo/25943

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 3:09 pm

marina – His Monroe photos are really wonderful. I came across a whole page of them online that you (and anyone else who’s interested) can find here: http://dudu.com/57848/photo/25943

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 3:11 pm

swac – Love that clip! I’m a big Judy Garland fan and I think that’s one of her best screen moments. Nobody sings that song as well as Judy.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 3:11 pm

swac – Love that clip! I’m a big Judy Garland fan and I think that’s one of her best screen moments. Nobody sings that song as well as Judy.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 3:21 pm

Stacia – Thanks Stacia and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I share your frustration when trying to find the name (or information) about a particular Hollywood photographer. It’s a shame that so much information about these talented & skilled folks has been lost or forgotten. I’ve written about a Ruth Harriet Louise (link here: http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/03/10/hollywoods-first-woman-of-photography-ruth-harriet-louise/ ) and Paul Hesse (link here: http://moviemorlocks.com/2010/06/24/the-glamorous-world-of-paul-hesse/ ) in the past and it seems like people enjoy these posts a lot so I’ll try and put together some more in the coming months. Thanks again!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 18, 2013 3:21 pm

Stacia – Thanks Stacia and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I share your frustration when trying to find the name (or information) about a particular Hollywood photographer. It’s a shame that so much information about these talented & skilled folks has been lost or forgotten. I’ve written about a Ruth Harriet Louise (link here: http://moviemorlocks.com/2011/03/10/hollywoods-first-woman-of-photography-ruth-harriet-louise/ ) and Paul Hesse (link here: http://moviemorlocks.com/2010/06/24/the-glamorous-world-of-paul-hesse/ ) in the past and it seems like people enjoy these posts a lot so I’ll try and put together some more in the coming months. Thanks again!

Posted By Susan Doll : January 18, 2013 3:44 pm

I love, love, love the Hollywood photographers of the stars. I have seen a couple of these photos but did not know the photographer’s name. It is tragic that they got little or no attention for their work, which was instrumental in the construction and circulation of stars’ images — which were the studios’ bread-and-butter.

Posted By Susan Doll : January 18, 2013 3:44 pm

I love, love, love the Hollywood photographers of the stars. I have seen a couple of these photos but did not know the photographer’s name. It is tragic that they got little or no attention for their work, which was instrumental in the construction and circulation of stars’ images — which were the studios’ bread-and-butter.

Posted By Susan Doll : January 18, 2013 10:12 pm

I forgot to add that Paulette Goddard’s shoes are killer.

Posted By Susan Doll : January 18, 2013 10:12 pm

I forgot to add that Paulette Goddard’s shoes are killer.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 19, 2013 3:22 am

Susan – Thanks, Susan and you’re right. Paulette’s shoes are killer!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 19, 2013 3:22 am

Susan – Thanks, Susan and you’re right. Paulette’s shoes are killer!

Posted By Richard B : January 19, 2013 7:45 am

The Academy Awards were given in February that year, my sources say, but if anyone wants to keep saying that Mr. Cronenweth won an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences I’m not going to correct them.

I love his glamour shot of Ann Sothern, who didn’t get to play a lot of glamorous dames in her movie roles.

Posted By Richard B : January 19, 2013 7:45 am

The Academy Awards were given in February that year, my sources say, but if anyone wants to keep saying that Mr. Cronenweth won an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences I’m not going to correct them.

I love his glamour shot of Ann Sothern, who didn’t get to play a lot of glamorous dames in her movie roles.

Posted By medusamorlock : January 19, 2013 10:32 am

Wonderful and informative post, Kimberly! Terrific! I love studio photos, especially the ones that *almost* reveal something about the subjects, or at least we hope they do!

Posted By medusamorlock : January 19, 2013 10:32 am

Wonderful and informative post, Kimberly! Terrific! I love studio photos, especially the ones that *almost* reveal something about the subjects, or at least we hope they do!

Posted By Sunday Reads: Potpourri « Sky Dancing : January 20, 2013 10:35 am

[...] Also from Movie Morlocks, some wonderful photography:  William Edward Cronenweth: A Legacy in Photos [...]

Posted By Sunday Reads: Potpourri « Sky Dancing : January 20, 2013 10:35 am

[...] Also from Movie Morlocks, some wonderful photography:  William Edward Cronenweth: A Legacy in Photos [...]

Posted By robbushblog : January 26, 2013 3:15 am

Paulette was wearing shoes? I didn’t even notice. He really did capture Rita though. Her shots are stunning. And, of course, my great love, Marilyn, looks stunning as always. I wish today’s stars could be a glamorous and be photographed as glamorous as the stars of old, but alas, they are not, so it shall not be done.

Posted By robbushblog : January 26, 2013 3:15 am

Paulette was wearing shoes? I didn’t even notice. He really did capture Rita though. Her shots are stunning. And, of course, my great love, Marilyn, looks stunning as always. I wish today’s stars could be a glamorous and be photographed as glamorous as the stars of old, but alas, they are not, so it shall not be done.

Posted By rochellelynn : February 1, 2013 2:36 pm

Reblogged this on classic hollywood.

Posted By rochellelynn : February 1, 2013 2:36 pm

Reblogged this on classic hollywood.

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