James Wong Howe’s name trends on Twitter today (May 25) thanks to a new Google Doodle featuring the late cinematographer’s likeness. Google noted in a blog post that the Doodle commemorates the 84th anniversary of “The Thin Man,” one of the Chinese-American artist’s most famous films.
— CNET (@CNET) May 25, 2018
According to Google, Howe was born in China and moved to Washington state at age 5 in the early 1900s. His landed his first industry job as a young man in Los Angeles, delivering films and cleaning up scraps from cutting room floors. He learned photography and applied his skills to cinematography for silent black-and-white films. Howe accidentally developed a technique for creating contrast by using dark backgrounds, and he used that trick throughout his career. He also pioneered cinematography practices like the use of wide-angle lenses, which capture more detail in a single film frame, and crab dollys, which attach cameras to moveable arms on platforms with four wheels. He was one of the best-regarded cinematographers of his time, and he won cinematography Oscars for “The Rose Tattoo” and “Hud.”
But, of course, Howe’s success didn’t protect him from racism. For instance, anti-miscegenation laws prevented his marriage to White author and journalist Sanora Babb from being legally recognized until 1948.
He died in 1976, but he is well remembered. “While Jimmie had a reputation for being very serious and dedicated, he was also known as a willing listener and collaborator with his peers,” wrote Don Lee, Howe’s nephew and Google’s partner for the Doodle, in the blog post. “That’s how I most remember him. 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.”