He was most notable for his involvement in Gone with the Wind (1939) and his close professional relationships with prominent actresses of the time, such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Ingrid Bergman.
He was killed in a car accident in Marina Del Rey, California, on October 21, 1974 at the age of 74.
Early Life and Education
Ernest Haller was born in Los Angeles, California, in May 31, 1898.
He went to Hollywood High School and graduated after four years. With his photographic training and a year of laboratory experience, Haller dove straight into the film industry after graduating. His initial interest was in acting; although none of his parents or other relatives were theatrical people, he managed to pursue acting both on stage and screen.
With his older brother’s help, Haller first joined the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, also known as the Biograph Studio or Biograph, in 1914 as an actor. However, he seemed to have realized his true passion fairly quickly, for he switched to the camera department just within a year of joining the studio. At the time, Biograph’s one of the most prized possessions was D.W. Griffith, and Haller began his career as a cinematographer as an assistant cameraman to Griffith’s great cameraman, Billy Bitzer.
His first work as a cameraman was The Hazards of Helen (1914), which was an early adventure film serial that was released by the Kalem Company. When D.W. Griffith left Biograph due to a disagreement between him and the studio regarding his feature film Judith of Bethulia (1914), the company gradually met its end. Eventually, the Biograph was bought by the First National Pictures, and First National was later bought by Warner Brothers. When Warner Brothers took over the First National, a number of the company’s finest cameramen including Haller followed.
Upon the launch of his career as a cinematographer, Haller worked vigorously, working in every department of the silent film days and photographing approximately fifty films in the next decade. The first motion picture that he was officially credited as a cinematographer was Mothers of Men in 1920. Some of Haller’s recognized works after that include Weary River (1928), Dawn Patrol (1930), The Rich are Always With US (1931)— a film where he first photographed Bette Davis—, The Emperor Jones (1933), and Dangerous (1935). In 1938, Haller received his first Academy Awards nomination for Best Cinematography for the film Jezebel. This recognition caught the eyes of David O. Selznick who was impressed with Haller work in Jezebel enough to borrow him from the Warner Bros. to participate in the legendary film, Gone with the Wind (1939), which granted Haller his first and only Oscar for Best Cinematography. Only a year after win first win, Haller received his third nomination for All This, and Heaven Too (1940), his fourth nomination for Mildred Pierce (1945) and fifth nomination for The Flame and the Arrow (1950).
However, with the coming of independent cinema, Haller and many other cameramen decide to continue their careers as freelancers. With Jim Thorpe— All American (1951) as his last film, Haller left Warner Brothers after 26 years. After working on few other films as a freelancer, Haller returned to Warner Bros. as an independent contractor for Rebel Without a Cause (1955). With this as a start, he continued to work on few other films for Warner Bros. including What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1969), which earned him his sixth nomination. Finally, his seventh and final nomination was only a year later with his work on Lilies of the Field (1963).
Haller initially announced his retirement in 1965 but managed to briefly come out of it in 1966 upon the request of director James Goldstone to film the second pilot of the Star Trek episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before". With this as his final credit, Haller retired from the motion pictures industry.
Jezebel and Bette Davis
Haller’s relationship with Bette Davis was ardent and long-lasting. Ever since their first encounter for the film The Rich are Always With Us, they continued to frequently work together until Davis won her first Oscar with Dangerous, which Haller was the director of photography of. With Jezebel, Haller was nominated alongside of Davis. It is well-known that Davis was extremely fond of Haller and his style, “Ernest Haller had always been my favorite cameraman. I never told him what to do, but I put my trust in him to do what he knew how to do, to make me look my best.” His work in Jezebel also led to his involvement in Gone with the Wind.
Gone with the Wind
David O. Selznick, the producer of the film, was impressed with Haller’s work on Jezebel that he replaced the former cinematographer Lee Garmes, who left the production after a month of shooting due to creative differences. Haller’s astounding work earned him his first and only Academy Awards along with the Technicolor Associates Ray Rennahan and Wilfred M. Cline. The film was a success, also winning awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Supporting Actress.
Mildred Pierce and Joan Crawford
Working closely with Bette Davis and earning two nominations for photographing her in Jezebel and All This, and Heaven Too, Haller also developed a strong relationship with Joan Crawford. He received his fourth nomination for Mildred Pierce, and Crawford won the award for Best Actress. With this as a start, Haller continued to photograph Crawford in several other films including Humoresque (1946) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Although Haller terminated his contract with the Warner Brothers in 1951, he was the best choice to photograph Bette Davis and Joan Crawford— two of the closest actresses that Haller has worked with and the ex-Warner stars. He was brought back to photograph the only film the two would appear together. The fondness that several actresses had on Haller came from his ability to capture them in an aesthetically beautiful manner, “Haller was very concerned with making female stars look beautiful, especially aging ones, and that’s what Bette was very concerned with, too.” However, in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Davis makes the decision to embrace the unflattering qualities of the character while Crawford remained with her glamor. As a result, Davis earned her Oscar nomination while Crawford didn’t.
Awards and Nominations
- Jezebel (1938) - nominated
- Gone with the Wind (1939) - won
- All This, and Heaven Too (1940) - nominated
- Mildred Pierce (1945) - nominated
- The Flame and the Arrow (1950) - nominated
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) - nominated
- Lilies of the Field (1963) - nominated
- Mothers of Men (1920)
- Outcast (1922)
- Parisian Nights (1924)
- Prince of Tempters (1926)
- The Whip Woman (1928)
- Weary River (1928)
- Young Nowheres (1929)
- Wedding Rings (1929)
- Son of the Gods (1929)
- Millie (1931)
- Street of Women (1932)
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (1934)
- Captain Blood (1935)
- Dangerous (1935)
- That Certain Woman (1937)
- Jezebel (1938)
- Dark Victory (1939)
- Gone with the Wind (1939)
- All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
- Honeymoon for Three (1941)
- The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
- The Maltese Falcon (1941)
- George Washington Slept Here (1942)
- Mr. Skeffington (1944)
- Mildred Pierce (1945)
- Devotion (1946)
- Deception (1946)
- Humoresque (1946)
- Winter Meeting (1948)
- The Flame and the Arrow (1950)
- Jim Thorpe - All-American (1950)
- Jhansi Ki Rani (1953)
- Magic Fire (1955)
- Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
- Strange Intruder (1956)
- God's Little Acre (1958)
- Man of the West (1958)
- The Miracle (1959)
- The Boy and the Pirates (1960)
- Armored Command (1961)
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
- Lilies of the Field (1963)
- Dead Ringer (1964)
Bibliography and Further Reading
- Chandler, Charlotte (2006). The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-84739-698-3
- Finler, Joel W. (1988). The Hollywood Story. London: Wallflower Press. ISBN 1-903364-66-3
- Keating, Patrick (2014). Cinematography. Rutgers: The State University. ISBN 978-0-8135-6349-7
- Keating, Patrick (2010). Hollywood Lighting from the Silent Era to Film Noir. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-14902-0
- Nichols, Bill (1985). Movies and Methods: An Anthology Vol. 2. Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-05408-3
- Wilson, Steve (2014). The Making of Gone with the Wind. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-76126-1
- Haller, Ernest. "Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records". findagrave.com.
- Haller, Ernest. "A.S.C. Application Form." March 3, 1924. American Society of Cinematographers Collection. Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collection, Los Angeles.
- Cormack, Michael J. (1994). Ideology and Cinematography in Hollywood, 1930-39. New York: St. Martin's. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-349-11860-1.
- Sadoul, Georges (1972). Dictionary of Filmmakers. Berkeley: University of California. p. 187. ISBN 0-520-02151-7.
- Finler, Joel W. (2003). The Hollywood Story. London: Wallflower Press. p. 310. ISBN 1-903364-66-3.
- Wilson, Steve (2014). The Making of Gone with the Wind. Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-292-76126-1.
- "ERNEST HALLER". www.cinematographers.nl. Retrieved 2016-11-22.
- Chandler, Charlotte (2006). The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 95. ISBN 978-1-84739-698-3.