Today’s Google homepage pages homage to the legendary Chinese-born American cinematographer, James Wong Howe, whose innovative filming techniques led to two Oscars despite facing years of racial discrimination.
Howe was born Wong Tung Kim on Aug. 28, 1899 in Canton, China and immigrated to the United States with his parents at age five.
He lived in Washington, Oregon and then southern California, where he explored innovative techniques to use lighting and sound in dramatic black and white film. According to Brittanica, Howe was one of the first cameramen to use a hand-held camera.
“In all the films Mr. Howe shot, his main goal was realism, whether in delicate and tender or action‐packed close‐ups, or in sweeping, vivid panoramas,” the New York Times wrote at the time of his death in 1976. “To achieve it, he strove to make all his sources of light absolutely naturalistic and developed various filming techniques.”
The noted filmmaker worked on more than 130 films and was nominated for 16 Academy Awards, but it was “The Rose Tattoo” (1955) and “Hud” (1963) that earned him the Oscars.
But growing up in America, Howe was often the only Chinese student in his classes and fell victim to bullying, incidents that commonly led to fistfights.
According to the New York Times, when Howe’s father died in 1914 and the family business began failing, teenage Howe began fighting professionally for $10 to $100 a bout.
He experienced discrimination throughout his life and became a U.S. citizen only after the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943. His marriage to American novelist Sanora Babb, whom he married in 1937 in Paris, wasn’t legally recognized in the country until 1948.
“While Jimmie had a reputation for being very serious and dedicated, he was also known as a willing listener and collaborator with his peers. That’s how I most remember him,” Howe’s nephew, Don lee, wrote for the Google blog. “He encouraged me in my studies, introduced me to film students he was mentoring, and took my college friends and me out for Dim Sum in Chinatown and to Angels baseball games. Jimmie proved, over the time I knew him, to be a consummate artist, valued friend and affectionate uncle. He is, and will always be, very much a part of my life.”
On July 12, 1976, Howe died after a long illness at his home in Hollywood. He was 76 years old.