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Gabriel Figueroa; Leading Mexican Cinematographer

May 01, 1997| From Times Staff and Wire Reports

MEXICO CITY — Gabriel Figueroa, a leading cinematographer who worked with the great performers and directors of Mexico's Golden Age of film as well as with U.S. directors John Huston and John Ford, has died. He was 89.

Figueroa died Sunday after suffering a stroke, only three days after his 89th birthday.

The Mexico City native made more than 200 films and won numerous international awards. His career began in the 1930s, when he studied cinematography in the United States with Gregg Toland, who filmed "Citizen Kane" and "Wuthering Heights." The beginning of his career coincided with what is considered the zenith of Mexican filmmaking, which occurred in the 1930s and 1940s.

Among Figueroa's top achievements were awards at the Cannes Film Festival for his work on "Maria Candelaria" in 1946, starring Dolores del Rio, and "Macario" in 1960. His work on Huston's "Night of the Iguana" in 1964 earned him an Academy Award nomination.

In 1995, the American Society of Cinematographers honored him with its International Achievement Award. He was praised in December at the International Festival of Latin American Film in Cuba.

A Mexico City movie theater is named after him.

"I've been very lucky in my profession," Figueroa told The Times in 1991 after a tribute by the UCLA film and television archive, the Mexican Film Institute and Chicanos '90. "I placed all my power in my image of Mexico. I merely put it on the screen."

Early in his career, Figueroa's camera artistry so dazzled the film world that the term "Figueroa skies" became common in the industry. It describes images of striking sky and cloud formations on black-and-white film.

Among the stars to pass through the lens of his camera were Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Richard Burton, Shirley MacLaine, Clint Eastwood, Lana Turner and Henry Fonda.

In addition to Huston, Figueroa worked with Ford on "The Fugitive" in 1947 and with legendary Spanish director Luis Bunuel.

President Ernesto Zedillo was among those who publicly mourned Figueroa's passing, saying his country "has lost a filmmaker who had given greatly to Mexican cinema."

Figueroa is survived by his wife, Antonieta, and two children, Tolita and Gabriel.

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