Haskell Wexler, Oscar-Winning Cinematographer, Dead at 93

Wexler was best known for such classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “In the Heat of the Night”

Haskell Wexler, a two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer, died Sunday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 93.

Wexler won his Oscars for films in both black and white and in color — 1967’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and 1976’s “Bound for Glory.”

His death was confirmed on the website HaskellWexler.com, and International Cinematographers Guild President Steve Porter issued a statement about Wexler Sunday.

“Haskell’s cinematography has always been an inspiration to so many of us not only in the Guild, but in the entire industry. His steady focus on safety over the years further demonstrates his commitment to welfare of the crew and our industry,” he said.

Wexler used hand-held cameras to capture the tension of the tirades between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” the last film to receive an Oscar for best black and white cinematography.

In addition to his second win for “Bound for Glory,” Wexler received three additional Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography, including for 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” John Sayles‘ 1987 film “Matewan” and Ron Shelton’s 1989 movie “Blaze.”

A liberal activist, Wexler photographed some of the most influential films of the 1960s and 1970s, including the Jane Fonda-Jon Voight anti-war classic “Coming Home,” the Sidney Poitier-Rod Steiger racial drama “In the Heat of the Night” and the Oscar-winning adaptation of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Wexler wasn’t afraid to speak his mind on the set. He had a run-in with Francis Ford Coppola during the filming of “The Conversation” and was fired.

Milos Forman sent him packing during the filming of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and Wexler shared the cinematography credit with Bill Butler.

When Wexler wasn’t working on big-budget studio fare, he traveled the world directing and photographing documentaries for favorite causes.

One of the most well-known was “Medium Cool,” his 1999 film that mixed documentary and dramatic elements to tell the story of a fictional television photographer (Robert Forster) who covers the battles between Chicago police and protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Wexler remained active late in his career. At age 89, he received an Emmy nomination as the cameraman for Billy Crystal‘s “61*,” the HBO film about Roger Maris’ record-setting home run season.

“He was a wonderful father. I owe most of who I am to his wisdom and guidance,” his son Jeff told the Associated Press. The younger Wexler was himself nominated for Oscars for sound work on “Independence Day” and “The Last Samurai.”

Haskell Wexler was born in Chicago on February 6, 1922. In addition to his two sons, Jeff and Mark, Wexler is survived by a daughter, Kathy Wexler, and his wife, Rita Taggart.