by Bob Fisher
William A. Fraker, ASC, BSC passed last year at the age of 86, following a long and courageous battle with cancer. Here Bob Fisher lovingly remembers his longtime friend and colleague. The Houston Film Festival had a tribute to the man everyone called “Billy” some three to four years ago. Billy had asked me to fly to Texas with him and moderate a post-screening Q and A with the audience. When the festival director asked Billy what film he wanted them to show, he chose Rosemary’s Baby.
I have an indelible memory of that discussion with Billy after the lights came back on. The theater was filled with 300 to 400 filmmakers, fans and students. One student said she was amazed he had shot that classic movie with a 50-speed color film before there was video assist. She asked how Billy knew what he was getting on film.He answered her question by pointing to his eyes.
Then, he put his right hand over his heart and advised her to learn to trust her eyes and what her heart tells her is right. Later during our discussion, I asked Billy if he could make one wish, what would it be. Without pausing, he replied that it would be making another film with Roman Polanski, who directed Rosemary’s Baby.

First Impressions
I met Billy for the first time in the late 1970s. It was a time in my life when I carried a Nikon SLR camera and took snapshots of the people I was interviewing to help illustrate articles. My film was processed and printed at a still film laboratory on the Paramount Pictures lot that was run by Bud Fraker. Bud was Billy’s uncle and a still photographer for the studio for decades. He introduced me to Mr. Fraker … that’s how journalists addressed cinematographers during those days. But I remember at that first meeting how Bud told me to call his nephew Billy, and to put my camera on the shelf and concentrate on writing! “Leave the picture taking to photographers,” he said.

William Fraker, Owen Roizman and David Walsh at the 
Q &A "The Western Genre". Moderated by Bob Fisher
CineGear 2008, Universal Studios,CA

Billy, who belonged to both the American Society of Cinematographers and the British Society of Cinematographers, was a uniquely talented human being. He compiled more than 50 narrative film credits as a cinematographer. There were Oscar® nominations for Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1978), Heaven Can Wait
(1979), 1941 (1980), WarGames (1984) and Murphy’s Romance (1986). He also earned an Oscar nomination for visual effects on 1941, which were created in-camera. You only need one hand to count the number of cinematographers who have earned more than one Oscar nomination for a single film.

  William Fraker sets up a shot for 
Warren Beatty on “Heaven Can Wait.”
William Fraker at work on the 1995 
film Father of the Bride Part II.

 There are more than a few other memorable films in his body of work, including The President’s Analyst, Bullitt, The Day of the Dolphin, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Spacecamp and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Billy also directed episodic TV shows and a few movies, including The Legend of the Lone Ranger and Monte Walsh in addition to shooting countless commercials.

The story of his life and career is like a script for a feel-good Hollywood movie. His grandmother was a teacher in Mexico when a brutal revolution brought Pancho Villa to power in 1910. Employees of the former government, including teachers, were on the “enemies list” and were targets for arrest and assassination. Billy’s grandmother left Mazatlan on foot with two mules carrying her two children. They made a long and dangerous journey to the border, and entered California as illegal immigrants. Fortunately this was not the Arizona of 2010!

William Fraker gives his impressions about creativity to 
Steven Fischer on his documentary "Old School, New School".

Billy’s grandmother made a new life for herself and her children in the U.S. They lived in a cottage near the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Vermont Avenue in Hollywood. His grandmother supported her family by working as a portrait photographer in downtown Los Angeles. Billy’s mother was 16 and his father was 18 when they met and married. His grandmother taught Billy’s father (who later became a publicity photographer for Columbia Pictures) the art and craft of photography. Billy had vivid memories of seeing portraits that his father took of Golden Era Hollywood stars like Anna May Wong, John Wayne and Barbara Stanwyck.

Read more...part 2

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