Gordon Willis, Master Cinematographer


Gordon Willis, the cinematographer behind several seminal films of the 1970s including “The Godfather” and “Manhattan,” died on Sunday.

Credit By Robin Lindsay and Gabe Johnson on Publish Date May 20, 2014

Credit Chris Pizzello/Associated Press


Gordon Willis, a master cinematographer whose work on “The Godfather,” “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” “Klute,” “All the President’s Men” and other seminal movies of the 1970s made his name synonymous with that pathbreaking decade in American moviemaking, died on Sunday at his home in North Falmouth, Mass. He was 82.

The cause was metastatic cancer, his son Gordon Willis Jr. said.

Mr. Willis created some of the most indelible cinematic imagery of the ‘70s — or of any decade, for that matter — giving narrative propulsion to adventurous screenplays while expressing the moral ambiguities at the heart of so many of that decade’s films and of the society they mirrored.

Three films that he shot — Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” (1972) and “The Godfather Part II” (1974) and Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (1977) — won the Academy Award for best picture.

Yet Mr. Willis, a native New Yorker who chose to live on the East Coast, harbored an antipathy toward Hollywood that may have been mutual. From 1971 to 1977, seven films he photographed earned a total of 39 Oscar nominations, 19 of which won the award. He received not one of those nominations, to the astonishment of many of the peers he influenced.

Gordon Willis, center, and Woody Allen, right, during the filming of “Annie Hall” in 1977. Credit Brian Hamill/Getty Images

”If there were a Mount Rushmore for cinematographers, Gordon’s features would surely be chiseled into the rock face,” said Stephen Pizzello, the editor in chief and publisher of American Cinematographer magazine.

Ultimately, Mr. Willis got two Oscar nominations for his cinematography — for Mr. Coppola’s “The Godfather Part III” (1990) and Mr. Allen’s “Zelig” (1983), but won neither — and he received an honorary Oscar in 2009.

The cinematographer Conrad Hall called Mr. Willis “the prince of darkness” for his daring use of minimalist light and embrace of shadows. It was fully on display in “The Godfather,” in the haunted look of Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone and in the gothic composition of Don Corleone’s study, and in the lush, romanticized images of Mr. Allen’s beloved Manhattan in the bittersweet 1979 comedy of the same name.

Shot in convention-defying wide-screen, 35-millimeter black and white, “Manhattan,” as much as any Willis film, showed the emotional impact that a cinematographer can have.

Mr. Willis worked in almost all genres, including westerns (“Bad Company,” “Comes a Horseman”), screwball comedies (“The Money Pit”) and period pieces (Mr. Allen’s “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo”). Some, like Herb Ross’s “Pennies From Heaven” (1981), with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, defied conventions, mixing elements of romance, dark drama and Depression-era Hollywood musical.

Mr. Willis collaborated with the director Alan J. Pakula on six films, three of which — “Klute” (1971), “The Parallax View” (1974) and “All the President’s Men” (1976) — established the paranoid thriller as a subgenre of American cinema.

Mr. Willis made virtuoso use of darkness in those films, alternating it with a stark white light that implied more than it revealed. “The Parallax View,” one of his signature achievements, was a tale of political assassination starring Warren Beatty in which Mr. Willis used the made-for-TV brilliance of a political convention as counterpoint to the shadowy corporate realities that lay behind the scenes.

Marlon Brando, foreground, and Robert Duvall in “The Godfather,” from 1972. Credit Paramount Pictures, via Photofest

Like many of the films he made during the 1970s, “The Parallax View” reflected a national spiritual unease. So did “All the President’s Men.” The way Mr. Willis lighted and shot the Washington parking garages where the reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) met clandestinely with the anonymous source known as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) — with an American presidency in the balance — suggested both the antiseptic angst of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” from 1968 and the German expressionist terror of F. W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” from 1922.

Mr. Willis could be playful as well. In “Zelig” (1983) — one of eight films he made with Mr. Allen, his most frequent collaborator — he used hand-cranked cameras, an assortments of film stocks and his own sleight-of-hand to impose Mr. Allen’s nebbishy title character into the major moments of the 20th century. The comedy was largely visual, and Mr. Willis created the kind of plausible imagery that allowed the comedic ideas to work.

Mr. Willis was known for his mechanical innovations as well. For “All the President’s Men,” he placed a winch in the dome of the Library of Congress so that a remote-controlled camera could be sent aloft from a desktop, providing, in a single shot, a full view of the library.

But it was his celebrated use of light that he was most often asked about, particularly in “The Godfather.” He spoke about it in 1995, when he received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers.

“People said, ‘You can’t see his eyes,’ “ he remarked, referring to Brando’s Don Corleone. “Well, you didn’t see his eyes in 10 percent of the movie, and there was a reason why. I remember asking: ‘Why do you have to see his eyes in that scene? Based on what?’ Do you know what the answer was? ‘That’s the way it was done in Hollywood.’ ”

“That’s not a good enough reason,” he continued. “There were times when we didn’t want the audience to see what was going on in there, and then, suddenly, you let them see into his soul for a while.”

Gordon Hugh Willis was born in Astoria, Queens, on May 28, 1931, the child of former Broadway dancers. Young Gordon grew up loving movies and wanting to be an actor, but after performing in some summer stock productions he gravitated toward stage design, theater lighting and ultimately photography.

Robert Redford, left, and Dustin Hoffman in “All the President’s Men,” from 1976. Credit Warner Bros., via Photofest

He began his photography career by shooting portfolio pictures for models he had met when his family lived in Greenwich Village and his father worked as a makeup man at the Warner Brothers studio in Brooklyn.

“I was going to be a fashion photographer!” he told an interviewer in 2009. “I was dumber than dirt, as they say. No money, no jobs, etc. Meanwhile my father had some friends that got me some jobs as a gofer on some movies that were passing through.”

The experience paid off. At the start of the Korean War, Mr. Willis joined the Air Force, which assigned him to a documentary motion picture unit. On his discharge he got into the cinematographers union in New York and began working as an assistant cameraman.

After working in television and doing television commercials, he got his first chance to shoot a feature film when the maverick director Aram Avakian asked him to direct photography for “End of the Road” (1970), a black comedy, with Stacy Keach, adapted from a John Barth novel and set on a “farm” for the mentally ill. The film found an art-house following in later years. Among his other early films was “The Landlord,” the feature debut of Hal Ashby.

Mr. Willis retired after shooting his final film for Mr. Pakula, “The Devil’s Own,” a crime thriller with Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt released in 1997. (Mr. Pakula died the next year in an automobile accident.)

In addition to his son Gordon, Mr. Willis is survived by his wife, the former Helen Stubsten; another son, Timothy; a daughter, Susan Willis; and five grandchildren.

A direct influence on cinematographers like Michael Chapman (“Raging Bull”) and John Bailey (“The Big Chill”), Mr. Willis would say that in preparing a film, a director of photography has to “fit the punishment to the crime” — that is, find a way into the material that feels artistically and aesthetically appropriate.

“The truth of the matter is, everybody tends to reduce or expand things to a level that they understand,” he said in a 2009 interview with John Lingan of Splice Today. “Two people can look at the same thing, they don’t necessarily see the same thing. Whatever happens on the screen really comes out of you. There’s no formula.”


Jerry Vale in 1976.

His family confirmed his death.

Mr. Vale rose to stardom performing in supper clubs as a teenager, hitting the charts for the first time in 1953 with “You Can Never Give Me Back My Heart.” He was a fixture at Columbia Records, where he recorded more than 50 albums and had hits with songs like “Two Purple Shadows” and “Al Di La.” His biggest hit, “You Don’t Know Me,” peaked at No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1956.

Like so many of his fellow crooners — among them Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Perry Como — Mr. Vale was Italian-American, and he helped popularize romantic Italian songs for American listeners with renditions of “Innamorata (Sweetheart)” in 1956 and “I Have but One Heart” in 1962.

As a teenager, he worked as an oiler alongside his father, an engineer, on excavations for projects like a sewage plant in Oyster Bay, on Long Island. “But then I got a break singing,” he said in a radio interview in 1984. “So, thank God, I made the right decision.”

Mr. Vale got his big break in 1950 while working at the Enchanted Room in Yonkers. There he met the singer Guy Mitchell, who arranged an audition for him with Mitch Miller, head of artists and repertoire at Columbia. He was signed to a contract and changed his name — he was born Genaro Louis Vitaliano — and his career was launched.

That career took him to Carnegie Hall as well as the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, where he met and worked with the stars of his time, among them Jerry Lewis, Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole.

His autobiography, “Jerry Vale: A Singer’s Life,” written with Richard Grudens, was published in 2000. In it, he recalled meeting his longtime idol, Sinatra, in the early 1950s at Lindy’s Restaurant in New York City, a magnet for show business talent. When they were introduced, Sinatra stood up, an unusual gesture for big stars at the time. It stunned Mr. Vale.

“A few years ago I had heard so many negative stories about Frank that I was somewhat apprehensive to approach him,” he said. “To my absolute surprise, he wound up being quite amiable, and the most caring individual that I have ever known.”

The two became fast friends. Sinatra, who was a partner in the Sands Hotel, helped Mr. Vale get his first gig there, a two-week engagement that was extended to 22 weeks after an owner, Jack Entratter, heard Mr. Vale’s voice.

After Mr. Vale and his wife, Rita, moved to California, the two became a constant presence at Sinatra’s ranch in Rancho Mirage. He took part in the annual Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational Golf Tournament for several years and once performed at the event in 1996.

In 1963 he hired a 40-piece band and eight background singers to record the national anthem. The recording became a fixture at sporting events for years and was the first song inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Mr. Vale made cameo appearances as himself in the films “Goodfellas” (1990) and “Casino” (1995), both directed by Martin Scorsese, and in the television series “The Sopranos.”

He was born on July 8, 1930, in the Bronx. In 1959 he married Rita Grapel, an actress who appeared on the television dramatic anthology series “Studio One in Hollywood” on CBS and “The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse” on NBC and in the 1952 film “The Thief.”

She survives him, as do their son, a daughter and three grandchildren.

Correction: May 19, 2014
An earlier version of this obituary misidentified the person who signed Mr. Vale to a recording contract. He was signed by Mitch Miller, not by Guy Mitchell.
Correction: May 21, 2014
An obituary in some late editions on Monday about the singer Jerry Vale misspelled the surname of an owner of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, where Mr. Vale performed early in his career. He was Jack Entratter, not Enratter. The obituary also misstated the maiden name of Mr. Vale’s wife. She was Rita Grapel, not Vale.




Vincent Harding wrote a key anti-Vietnam War speech for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Credit Joe Amon/The Denver Post.

His death, from an aneurysm, was confirmed by the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, where he was emeritus professor of religion and social transformation. A Denver resident, Dr. Harding had been lecturing on the East Coast when he died.

For more than half a century, Dr. Harding worked at the nexus of race, religion and social responsibility. Though he was not as high-profile a figure as some of his contemporaries — he preferred to work largely behind the scenes — he was widely considered a central figure in the civil rights movement.

A friend, adviser and sometime speechwriter to Dr. King, Dr. Harding was a member of the cohort that helped carry on his mission after his assassination in 1968.

Dr. Harding, the first director of what is now the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, was in the vanguard of promoting black studies as an academic discipline at colleges and universities throughout the country. He served as a consultant to television programs about the African-American experience, notably “Eyes on the Prize,” the critically acclaimed documentary series first broadcast on PBS in 1987.

As a historian, Dr. Harding argued that black Americans — and, by extension, all Americans — could not understand the social struggles that lay ahead without a deep understanding of those who had gone before. He was known in particular for two books, “There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America” (1981) and “Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero” (1996).

In “There Is a River,” Dr. Harding examined the tradition of black protest — a movement he likened to a river flowing through centuries of American history — up to the end of the Civil War. Throughout the book, he adopted the dual stance, unusual for an academic historian, of impartial observer of past events and active participant in present ones.

“I have tried,” he wrote, “to provide a rigorous analysis of the long black movement toward justice, equity and truth.” But simultaneously, he continued, “I have freely allowed myself to celebrate.”

Reviewing the volume in The New York Times Book Review, the historian Eric Foner described it as embodying “both passion and impeccable scholarship.”

In “Martin Luther King,” Dr. Harding argued that in focusing toward the end of his life on social imperatives like eradicating war and poverty, Dr. King was more radical than many Americans feel secure in acknowledging.

“Men do not get assassinated for wanting children of different colors to hold hands on a mountainside,” Dr. Harding said in a 2005 lecture. “He was telling us to march on segregated housing, segregated schools, poverty, a military with more support than social programs. That’s where he was in 1965. If we let him go where he was going, then he becomes a challenge, not a comfort.”

Vincent Gordon Harding was born in Harlem on July 25, 1931, and reared by his mother, Mabel Lydia Broome, who worked as a domestic. They moved to the Bronx when Vincent was a youth, and after graduating from Morris High School there, he received a bachelor’s degree in history from the City College of New York and a master’s in journalism from Columbia.

After Army service — an experience, he said, that made him a committed pacifist — he earned a master’s in history from the University of Chicago, followed by a Ph.D. in history there, writing his dissertation on Lyman Beecher, the Protestant minister, antislavery advocate and father of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In Chicago, Dr. Harding also served as a lay pastor in the Mennonite Church. In the late 1950s, as a church representative, he traveled to the South to observe race relations there. On that trip, he met Dr. King and became deeply influenced by him.

In the early ’60s, Dr. Harding and his wife, the former Rosemarie Freeney, moved to Atlanta, where they established Mennonite House, an integrated community center. The site they secured for it happened to be the childhood home of the soprano Mattiwilda Dobbs, among the first black singers to perform with the Metropolitan Opera.

In Atlanta, Dr. Harding joined the department of history and sociology at Spelman College, becoming the department chairman. At the same time, he contributed speeches for Dr. King.

His most memorable, described in 2007 by Sojourners, the progressive Christian magazine, as “one of the most important speeches in American history,” was commissioned amid the United States’ escalating involvement in Vietnam.

“He wanted to make a full, clear statement on the issue, but he didn’t have the time to craft something of that depth and intensity because of his travel schedule,” Dr. Harding said in an interview last year. “So he asked me, because I knew who he was and where he was coming from.”

Dr. King delivered the address, known variously as “Beyond Vietnam” and “A Time to Break Silence,” at Riverside Church in Manhattan on April 4, 1967.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal,” he said. “And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.” He added: “If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.”

The speech, which articulated what was then a relatively unpopular position, touched off a firestorm.

In an editorial titled “Dr. King’s Disservice to His Cause,” Life magazine called it “a demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People described the address as “a serious tactical error.”

After Dr. King’s death, Dr. Harding became the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, a post he held until 1970. He later directed the Institute of the Black World, an organization, based in Atlanta, that promotes black studies and black intellectual life.

Dr. Harding taught at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania before joining the Iliff faculty in 1981. There, he and his wife established Veterans of Hope Project, which documents on video the stories of social-justice leaders from around the world.

Rosemarie Freeney Harding died in 2004. Dr. Harding’s survivors include his second wife, Aljosie Aldrich Harding, whom he married in December; a daughter, Rachel Harding; and a son, Jonathan.

His other books include “The Other American Revolution” (1980) and “Hope and History” (1990).

For all the furor that surrounded “A Time to Break Silence,” neither Dr. Harding nor Dr. King disavowed the address. But Dr. Harding would come to have profound regrets about having composed it for Dr. King at all.

“It was precisely one year to the day after this speech that that bullet which had been chasing him for a long time finally caught up with him,” Dr. Harding said in a 2010 interview “And I am convinced that that bullet had something to do with that speech. And over the years, that’s been quite a struggle for me.”




Ernesto Butcher, in 1991, near the George Washington Bridge. Credit Eddie Hausner/The New York Times

He apparently had a heart attack while jogging near his home, his wife, Kristen Peck, said in confirming the death.

Among the more than 2,700 people killed that day at the World Trade Center, where the authority had its headquarters, 84 were agency employees. One, Neil Levin, the executive director, was Mr. Butcher’s boss.

As chief operating officer, Mr. Butcher marshaled thousands of managers and employees scattered throughout the region, took charge of closing the gateways to New York City and established a temporary headquarters for the agency in Jersey City on Sept. 11.

Two days later, while taking phone calls from frantic relatives of 150 authority employees initially reported missing, and with a go-ahead from the police, Mr. Butcher gave the signal to reopen the system: resuming operations at Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark Airports; the George Washington Bridge; two Hudson River tunnels; the shipping terminals of Brooklyn, Jersey City and Newark; and a dozen other facilities run by his agency.

“I’m here today to assure the people of New York and New Jersey, and throughout the world, that the Port Authority is open for business,” he said at a news conference on Sept. 13.

Ronald Shiftan, who as Mr. Levin’s deputy was later appointed acting executive director, ceded operational authority in the following months to Mr. Butcher.

Mr. Butcher delivered eulogies at 84 funerals and memorial services for authority employees. Fearing that exhaustion would compromise the system, he urged agency employees not to volunteer in their off hours during the workweek at the site of the collapsed towers.

Ken Philmus, who was director of tunnels and bridges at the time, said in an interview: “My toll collectors were working a full shift, then going downtown to work on the pile, working around the clock. Ernesto understood it. But with him, the public interest always had to come first. Our job was to keep the system running.”

After being named chief operating officer in 1999, Mr. Butcher, a career civil servant at the authority, served under a dozen board chairmen, executive directors and deputy executives, all appointed by either the governor of New York or the governor of New Jersey under a power-sharing arrangement. But beginning in 2010, he told his family, political appointees seemed to be pushing him toward the door.

Mr. Butcher complained to his boss, Christopher Ward, the authority’s executive director, that two appointees of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director, and his lieutenant, David Wildstein — had excluded Mr. Butcher from meetings as they undertook to trim the agency’s roughly $8 billion annual budget.

Both Mr. Butcher and Mr. Ward found themselves blamed by unidentified Port Authority officials, quoted by newspapers, for cost overruns in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, employee overtime expenses, and large bridge and tunnel toll increases in 2011.

Mr. Ward, who was widely credited with jump-starting development of the stalled trade center site after being appointed in 2008, resigned in 2011. Mr. Butcher, who had planned to retire at the end of 2012, retired instead in April that year, ending a 41-year career at the authority.

“He had nothing to do with those budgets,” Mr. Ward said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It is unconscionable for a man of Ernesto’s integrity to be forced to end his distinguished career under a cloud.”

Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein, both of whom resigned from the Port Authority last year over their involvement in the controversy involving the shutdown lanes at the George Washington Bridge, did not respond to requests for comment.

“ ‘Bridgegate’ would not have happened if Ernesto had still been there,” Mr. Ward said.

Ernesto Leonardo Butcher was born on Aug. 9, 1944, in Colon, Panama, a Caribbean seaport near the Panama Canal. His father, Lorenzo, worked in canal operations. His mother, Naomi, died when Ernesto was 4.

Soon after his father remarried, Mr. Butcher was sent to live with relatives, ending up with an aunt in Brooklyn. He graduated from Boys High School (now Boys and Girls High School) in Brooklyn and Hunter College, where he studied psychology and literature.

After serving with the Peace Corps in South Korea, where he became fluent in Korean, he received a graduate degree in international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh.

Besides his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Mijha Butcher Godfrey; a granddaughter; and three stepchildren.

Before becoming chief operating officer, Mr. Butcher was manager of the George Washington Bridge, director of bridges and tunnels and head of several other departments. The introduction of E-ZPass, electronic highway signage, light rail AirTrains to Kennedy and Newark Airports, and the decade-long stripping and repainting of the George Washington Bridge happened on his watch.

When Mr. Butcher was manager of the Port Authority bus terminal in the mid-1980s, he rid it of drug addicts and prostitutes by persuading state officials to send him social workers; they helped place most of the bus terminal’s vagrant population in rehabilitation programs and halfway houses.

“We wanted to provide an alternative, not compound the problem,” he said.




Ruth Ziolkowski and her husband, Korczak Ziolkowski, in South Dakota. Credit Pat Dobbs/Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, via Associated Press

The warrior Crazy Horse carved into the Black Hills in South Dakota. Credit Francis Temman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ruth Ziolkowski, who after the death of her husband carried on his dream of honoring Native Americans with a massive likeness of the warrior Crazy Horse carved into the Black Hills in South Dakota, died on Wednesday in Rapid City, S.D. She was 87.

Her death was confirmed by a spokesman for the Crazy Horse Memorial, which draws more than a million visitors a year.

As envisioned, the memorial, when completed, would show Crazy Horse astride a horse and pointing east to the plains in a carving that would be 641 feet long and 563 feet high. Its height would be nearly twice that of the Statue of Liberty.

Ms. Ziolkowski — Ruth Ross at the time — arrived in the Black Hills in 1948, traveling from Connecticut with a group of young people who had volunteered to help the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski begin the Crazy Horse carving. The two were married in 1950; he was 42 and she was 24.

Mr. Ziolkowski had taken on the project at the invitation of Chief Henry Standing Bear of the Lakota tribe, who, in a letter, referred to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and said, “We would like the white man to know the red men have great heroes also.”

Crazy Horse helped lead the 1876 attack against Gen. George Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.

Ms. Ziolkowski took over the memorial project after her husband’s death in 1982. At the time, work was proceeding on carving the horse. But Ms. Ziolkowski pursued a change in strategy — to first complete Crazy Horse’s 90-foot-tall face. The idea was that the completed face would become an immediate tourist draw, attract worldwide interest and help raise money for the rest of the project. The shift in emphasis did exactly that.

While others did the carving on the mountain, Ms. Ziolkowski worked mostly from her cabin, where her 10 children were born.

The site now includes a welcome center, a museum, a restaurant, a gift shop and the Indian University of North America on 1,000 acres.

Rollie Noem, the memorial foundation’s chief operating officer, said Ms. Ziolkowski was considered the site’s matriarch. “She’s not only kept things together,” he told the A.P. in 2006, “but she’s overseen all of the growth that has happened and the expansion and development from all fronts.”


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