Famed cinematographer James Wong Howe was celebrated with a Google Doodle on May 25. In tribute to the black-and-white films he lensed, the monochromatic illustration features Howe wearing a suit and tie, sporting a hat and standing in front of a marquee. Google enlisted Howe’s nephew Don Lee for input on the doodle as well as background history to the cinema pioneer. In his 120-film career, Howe also has a connection to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Born in Guangzhou, China, on Aug. 28, 1889, Howe arrived in the United States with his family at age 5 as they settled in Washington. Before arriving in Hollywood, he was a professional boxer as a teenager, according to Google’s accompanying profile. Howe encountered repeated racial discrimination throughout his life, from being denied U.S. citizenship due to the Chinese Exclusion Act until his denial was appealed in 1943, according to Time, to his marriage to poet Sanora Babb in 1937 not being legally recognized until 1957 because of anti-interracial laws.
Howe received 10 Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars for his work in “The Rose Tattoo” and “Hud.” His cinematography work includes two John Garfield movies: “Body and Soul,” a boxing movie in which Howe wore roller skates to film the action, according to Time, and the suspenseful “He Ran All the Way,” a film noir that lends nicely to Howe’s aesthetics for mood lighting and less camera movement to maintain the movie’s tension.
Howe’s next-to-last film before he died in 1976 was 1970’s “The Molly Maguires,” a movie that was filmed in Eckley Miners Village and parts of Carbon, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. Starring Sean Connery, Richard Harris and Samantha Eggar, the big-budget movie is based on the novel of the same name on Irish miners in Pennsylvania rising against their mine bosses. By the time cinemas were rolling in this region in 1968, cinematography and techniques had changed as Hollywood films ventured into color and epics and shifted away from moody movies. Howe, however, transitioned with the times, finding new ways to create celluloid magic for the big screen. His signature touches, from the dark and claustrophobic settings in the coal mines to the wide-angle view of the Carbon County Courthouse in the courtroom scenes, were still in use. After the film, Howe went into a semi-retirement.
Howe’s doodle was originally set for Aug. 28. 2017, on what would have been his 118th birthday, but the events of Hurricane Harvey forced the delay. Google released the doodle today to commemorate May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.