Today’s Google Doodle is giving James Wong Howe, a man known for his work behind the camera, a moment in front of it.
Howe worked on more than 130 films during his career, including the 1934 comedy-mystery The Thin Man (and if you haven’t seen Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles, fix that this weekend). The movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, spawned several pretty good sequels, and was added to the U.S. National Film Registry in 1997 an honor reserved for films deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Much of that aesthetic significance is due to Howe’s subtly striking cinematography.
On the anniversary of the film’s release, Google pays tribute to Howe and his impressive body of work. The Doodle was meant to run a year ago, but was held back when a hurricane struck and Google opted to save it for later. “Howe left such a unique and indelible mark on American cinema that we decided to run the Doodle this year on the anniversary of the release of one of his most notable works,” Google wrote.
Howe was born in Guangzhou, China in 1899 before immigrating to the U.S. when he was five years old (a DREAMer, basically), but could not become a U.S. citizen until the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943. Despite widespread racial discrimination, Howe started working in Hollywood in the film set equivalent of the mailroom, eventually becoming the camera assistant for the legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille. He built a reputation for the dramatic lighting and deep shadows associated with the film noir genre. When color film became the standard, Howe translated his talents to the new medium with innovative uses of fish-eye and wide-angle lenses. He won Academy Awards for cinematography for 1955’s The Rose Tattoo and 1963’s Hud.