Men Behind the Stars — Hal Mohr (1937) 🇺🇸

Hal Mohr | www.vintoz.com

January 15, 2022

Amateur photographer to ace studio cameraman. That’s the record of Hal Mohr, winner of the Academy award last year for his cinematography of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and foremost contender for the same honors again, for his work on “The Green Pastures.”

Cameraman of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Hal started fooling around with cameras when a boy of fifteen. Out of old parts which he found in a junk heap, he manufactured his own movie camera — that worked! Then he snooped about his home town, San Francisco, snapping news events. He sold his reels to Sid Grauman’s father, then running the Empress Theatre, who showed the films between stage shows.

“Amateurs, today, have, just as much chance of making a place for themselves,” Hal says. “I’m a firm believer in the theory that it’s better to develop your talents constructively in your own home town than to rush to Hollywood, ambitious but inexperienced, and wonder why nobody gives you a chance!”

Proving his point by his own experience, Hal came to Hollywood thoroughly trained in motion picture camera work, and created a place for himself in the struggling young movie industry. He photographed and helped to produce some of the first five-reelers ever made. He filmed and directed such stars as Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, Belle Bennett, Lois Wilson, Anna Q. Nilsson, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and tells scores of fascinating stories about these great stars.

Recently his talents have come in handy for such gigantic pictures as “Captain Blood” and “Ladies in Love,” the latter boasting four feminine stars who must be pleased regarding lighting effects and camera angles. Janet Gaynor, Constance Bennett, Loretta Young and Simone Simon are the ladies who may be presumed to be fighting for Hal’s attentions — professionally speaking.

In private life he is solely devoted to two charming young women. One is Evelyn Venable, whom he married shortly after they met on the set of David Harum, which he photographed and in which Evelyn appeared. Will Rogers was the star — and did much to further the budding romance. “One of our most treasured possessions is a picture of Will which he autographed to us with the inscription: ‘From the Old Matchmaker, with best wishes,’” Hal relates.

Hal’s other romance is Dolores Venable Mohr, his ten-months-old daughter, who is probably the most and best photographed infant in existence. Grinning, Hal admitted, “My weekends are always postman’s holidays. I spend all my time ‘shooting’ the baby with new types of film and cameras.”

Hal receives almost a thousand letters a month from amateurs who ask him how to find jobs in studios. This is his answer: “Experiment at home until you discover something new — then the studios will be seeking you.” Other inquiries come from girls hoping for screen tests, who have read that Hal made the first tests of Garbo, Al Jolson, Leslie Howard, and others who have since reached fame in Hollywood.

“Few people realize the tremendous difference between photographic beauty and off-screen beauty,” Hal says. “The very irregularity of feature which makes certain faces charming in real life may become a definite handicap in the camera’s eye. And sometimes, on the other hand, screen beauties appear drab and plain in real life.” Technicolor, Hal believes, will give many types of girls their first chance at Hollywood fame, since, for the first time, their own natural coloring will be as important as beauty of feature.

One thing about cameramen always astonishes newcomers to Hollywood. They seldom turn the cranks on their own cameras, but leave this to an assistant. What are their duties? Supervising makeup, wardrobes, set designs and furnishings for photographic value — directing the arrangement of lights and lighting effects — selecting angles from which each scene should be “shot” and creating, pictorially, the mood, action and sequence of the production. They say in Hollywood: “A star is just as good as her cameraman.” And Hal Mohr is a favorite of the stars, as much for his tact and human warmth as for his professional genius.

A scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which won the Academy award for Hal Mohr. He’s a contender again with “Green Pastures.”

Source: Motion Picture, January 1937

Hal Mohr, on the camera dolly, a well known ace cameraman at Universal, listens to a lecture on dramatics by Hal Mohr, distinguished moving picture director. Perhaps they are talking about “When Love Is Young.”

Source: International Photographer, March 1937