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Charles F. Wheeler, 88; Did Cinematography for 'Tora! Tora! Tora!'

November 03, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Charles F. Wheeler, a cinematographer for half a century who was nominated for an Academy Award for "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and for an Emmy for the CBS television movie "Babe," about athlete Mildred Zaharias, has died. Wheeler, 88, died Thursday in the city of Orange. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

To make the 1970 "Tora! Tora! Tora!" -- a collaboration between Japanese filmmakers and 20th Century Fox depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor -- Wheeler directed five camera crews simultaneously filming each major scene.

"Photography is photography, whether you are shooting a three-camera comedy on a stage or a dramatic film on location," Wheeler said in 2001 when he received the President's Award from the American Society of Cinematographers. "You depend on your instincts and experience."

Wheeler happened into his profession because he liked horses and learned to play polo. A native of Los Angeles, Wheeler was a champion on the USC polo team. He frequented the Riviera and Will Rogers polo fields, playing with Hollywood figures including Walt and Roy Disney and actor Spencer Tracy.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday November 08, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Signing date -- An obituary in Wednesday's California section for Charles F. Wheeler said the date of the signing of the Japanese surrender that ended World War II was Aug. 14, 1945. The formal surrender ceremonies were Sept. 2, 1945.

The Disneys offered him his first job as an apprentice cameraman. Tracy later starred in the first three films that included Wheeler's credit as camera operator: "Inherit the Wind" in 1960, "Judgment at Nuremberg" in 1961 and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in 1963.

Wheeler was a Navy combat photographer in the Pacific during World War II and helped document the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship Missouri on Aug. 14, 1945. He later honed his craft working with such cinematographers as Karl Freund. By 1960, he was establishing his own film credits.

In the 1970s, Wheeler became one of the first mainstream Hollywood cinematographers to lend credibility to movies-for-television, turning his lens on such productions as "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," "The Day the Earth Moved," "The Red Badge of Courage" and "The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case."

Survivors include his wife, Diane, and a daughter, Constance Faber.

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