Monday, April 23, 2012

Linwood Dunn

In a recent post I mentioned that the Vine St. Theater where Joey Bishop used to tape his talk show is now known as the Linwood Dunn Theater. Which raises the obvious question, "Who the hell is Linwood Dunn?"

My first guess was that it was someone with too much money and ego who agreed to hand over a significant part of his ill-gotten gains in exchange for getting his name slapped on a theater.

My second guess was that it was someone with too much money whom the owners of the theater were trying to suck up to in hopes of getting a significant bequest upon that someone's death.

Turns out that this might actually be a case where someone actually deserved to have a theater named after them in recognition of their contributions to the art of film.

To quote Wikipedia:

Linwood G. Dunn, A.S.C. (December 27, 1904, Brooklyn, New York – May 20, 1998, Los Angeles) was a pioneer of visual special effects in motion pictures and inventor of related technology. Dunn worked on many films and TV series including the original King Kong (1933), Citizen Kane (1941), and Star Trek (1966–69)....
Dunn's career began by about 1923 when he worked as a projectionist for the American Motion Picture Picture Corp. Following a relative to Hollywood, he was hired as an assistant by the Pathé company in 1925. Early films and serials he worked on as a cameraman were The Green Archer (1925), Snowed in (1926), Hawk of the Hills (1927), Queen of the Northwoods (1929), Flight (1929, Frank Capra's first sound film), Ringside (1929), The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1930), Danger Lights (1930), an early widescreen film, and Cimarron (1931), an Academy Award-winner for Best Picture....
It was Dunn who photographed the rotating RKO radio tower trademark used at the beginning of all RKO films. In the early 30s, Dunn became part of the effects team responsible for the creation of the original King Kong (1933)....
Dunn continued to work at RKO after Howard Hughes bought the studio. Production on The Outlaw (1943) was halted owing to a controversy over how much of Jane Russell's bosom would be visible. Dunn resolved the situation by rephotographing Russell's close-ups with a tiny scrim inserted between the projector and camera, so as to soften the line of her cleavage. Dunn gained a technical Oscar (along with machinist Cecil Love) in 1944 for his work.
After RKO had ceased to exist as a film production company, Dunn did the optical composites and title sequence for West Side Story (1961) and the elaborate fire-ladder sequence at the end of Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), which required 21 different all-color elements to be composited into final images.
Other later large-format and/or high-profile films Dunn's company did opticals for are My Fair Lady (1964), The Great Race (1965), Hawaii (1966), The Bible: In the Beginning (1966), Darling Lili (1970), and Airport (1970)....
Dunn produced the lightning-electrocution scene at the end of The Thing from Another World (1951) by scratching the lightning, frame-by-frame, on a strip of black film and then compositing the best of that footage with live action footage of the monster burning and shrinking (done by Dunn via pulling back the camera on a track while filming the monster image element against a black background), with those two elements then photographically combined with the unmoving image of the floor and walls that surround the creature in the final composite. During the brief 3-D craze and the more permanent shift to widescreen processes such as CinemaScope, Dunn pioneered the use of optical composites using these developments, inventing and refining new equipment to achieve it.
Dunn worked for Desilu Productions, founded by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, their TV production required the occasional use of optical effects, especially for increasingly elaborate title sequences, and Dunn was one of several optical houses that supplied them.
From 1965, Dunn became one of four optical houses that supplied visual effects for the company's (later Paramount) Star Trek TV series. It was mostly Dunn who photographed the 11-foot large Starship Enterprise model....
Dunn also specialized in optical work for special and large format films, creating the equipment necessary to do the jobs. Dunn did optical composite for several special 70mm films shown at World's Fairs, including the multi-panel tour-de-force film, A Place To Stand made for Expo 67. It was Dunn who did what his associates said was impossible, cleanly blowing up 16mm negative to 70mm prints for George Harrison's Concert For Bangladesh concert film. Dunn's company later became the first facility in Hollywood that could do optical composites in the ultra-large Imax film format....
In the 1990s, while in his 90s, Dunn joined with Japanese engineers in the development of a 3-D television system that used electronic virtual-reality-type glasses that auto-synched to the TV image, to create the most clear and deep 3-D images ever produced. The system was built for hospitals; surgeons in many facilities are now using the system as a key aid in sorting out the nerve-endings during micro-neurosurgery. The system was profiled on an episode of Alan Alda's Scientific American Frontiers TV series. Always keenly interested in technology, Dunn participated in the development of digital projection for theaters.

I'd never heard of Dunn before coming across his name while doing a bit of research on that silly little Joey Bishop postcard I shared here. Now I have a deep respect for him.

I also now have a deep curiosity about the long gone Esquire Theater in Toledo and the person that old burlesque house may have been named after. Perhaps the inventor of the rim shot or the bump-and-grind?

The mind reels.

Which is a good thing since that's just about the only exercise it gets anymore....

1 comment:

  1. "The mind reels..."
    I never realized before, or if I did I don't remember, that business rhymes with dizzyness.

    Movie titling has become very complicated. I saw a recent remake of The Scarlet Letter where the actors navigated around the titles as they moved in the opening scenes.

    In 1968 Doctor McCoy did micro-neurosurgery to restore Spock's Brain to his head. He didn't need special glasses. He just needed a brain upgrade. "It's so obvious. It's child's-play."