The American Society of Cinematographers succeeded two organizations: the Cinema Camera Club, started by Edison cameramen Philip E. Rosen, Frank Kugler and Lewis W. Physioc in New York in 1913; and the Static Club of America, a Los Angeles-based society first headed by Universal cameraman Harry H. Harris. From the beginning, the two clubs had a loose affiliation, and eventually the West Coast organization changed its name to the Cinema Camera Club of California. But even as the center of film production shifted from New York to Los Angeles, the western cinematographers’ organization was struggling to stay afloat.
Phil Rosen came to Los Angeles in 1918. When he sought affiliation with the Cinema Camera Club of California, president Charles Rosher asked if he would help reorganize the faltering association. Rosen sought to create a national organization, with membership by invitation and a strong educational component.
The reorganization committee met in the home of William C. Foster on Saturday, December 21, 1918, and drew up a new set of bylaws. The 10-member committee and five visitors were designated as the board of governors for the new organization. The next evening, in the home of Fred LeRoy Granville, the first officers for the American Society of Cinematographers were elected: Philip E. Rosen, president; Charles Rosher, vice-president; Homer A. Scott, second vice-president; William C. Foster, treasurer; and Victor Milner, secretary. The Society was chartered by the State of California on January 8, 1919.
So who were the founders of the ASC? Some of the 15 were among the best-known cinematographers of all time, but others are not well remembered. Here we offer profiles of the men who started it all.
Philip E. Rosen
Phil Rosen was the first ASC member to give up his backward cap for a director’s chair. Born on May 8, 1888, in Russia and raised in Machias, Maine, Rosen worked as a projectionist and lab technician before becoming an $18-a-week cinematographer in 1912. He later worked at Fox and shot several of Theda Bara’s pictures. Rosen came to California in 1918 to photograph George Loane Tucker’s The Miracle Man (Mayflower-Paramount, 1919). The success of the film brought Rosen an offer to direct from Universal, and over the next 30 years he helmed some 140 films. He directed Rudolph Valentino in The Young Rajah (1922), and one of the most acclaimed films of the silent era, The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln (1924), but more often than not, he was a director of efficient, low-budget quickies.
Rosen was also active in the formation of the Screen Directors’ Guild in 1936 and served on the board and as treasurer through 1941. He died of a heart attack on October 22, 1951.
Homer A. Scott
Although Homer Scott was a leader in the earliest days of the ASC, and served as president from 1925-26, he has proven to be one of the more elusive founders. He was apparently born in the state of New York circa 1883, but so far, the details of his birth and a record of his death have not been found.
Scott’s earliest known credits are as cinematographer for actor Carlyle Blackwell’s Favorite Players Film Company in 1914. When Blackwell signed with the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company in 1915, Scott followed, and he also worked with Lasky’s sister companies, Pallas Pictures and the Oliver Morosco Photoplay Company. In 1921, Scott photographed Molly-O, starring Mabel Normand, for Mack Sennett. Over the next two years, he shot all of Sennett’s feature projects, including The Crossroads of New York (1922), The Shriek of Araby (1923) and The Extra Girl (1923).
Scott was loaned to Warner Bros. to shoot The Little Church Around the Corner, and is said to have started shooting Warners’ The Marriage Circle for director Ernst Lubitsch before being replaced. He is known to have worked as a second cameraman for comedian Harold Lloyd, and he also did underwater work and other specialized cinematography.
Although Scott’s name appeared on the ASC roster for years, his name disappeared from the credits of feature films after 1923.
William C. Foster
William C. Foster was a pioneer of cinematography. He was born in Bushnell, Illinois, on December 28, 1880, and went to work for the Chicago-based Selig Polyscope Company in 1901, at a time when Selig was turning out 50' and 100' actualities and trick films. Foster left Selig in May 1911 to join Carl Laemmle’s Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP). In 1915, he signed with the Equitable Motion Picture Corporation, working in New York and Florida. Foster was lead cinematographer on the first five two-reelers Charlie Chaplin made for Mutual Film Corporation in 1916: The Floorwalker, The Fireman, One A.M., The Count and The Vagabond. He later shot a number of pictures for director Frank Lloyd, including A Tale of Two Cities (Fox, 1917) and The Silver Horde (Goldwyn, 1920), and also worked with director Lois Weber.
Foster died on January 18, 1923, from complications related to syphilis, a disease politely described as the “general paralysis of the insane.”
L. Dal Clawson had spent about 17 years behind a movie camera when he helped found the ASC, but nothing is known about his earliest years in the business. He was born circa 1886 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and his first known feature credits as a cinematographer are for director Lois Weber at Bosworth, Inc., and Universal in 1914-15. He also worked for the American Film Company and Ince-Triangle-KayBee, where photographic superintendent and future director Irvin Willat would remember Clawson as “sort of like a news cameraman” who was not especially noted for his lighting style.
By the early 1920s, Clawson was chief cinematographer for popular star Anita Stewart at Louis B. Mayer Productions, but later in the decade, he often worked as a second cameraman. He was lead cinematographer on the early talkie Syncopation (1929), but his few remaining published credits are for expedition films such as Hunting Tigers in India (1929) and low-budget East Coast productions such as The Black King and The Horror (both 1932).
Clawson died in Englewood, New Jersey, on July 18, 1937.