Russell Metty's four-decade span as one of Hollywood's top cinematographers was highlighted by his Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography on Spartacus (1960). That honor, however, only scratches the surface of his career.
Metty was born in Los Angeles in 1906, just in time to reach his teens as the film industry entered its own adolescence, and to join it during the peak of the silent era. He entered the movie business as a lab assistant during the 1920s and later served as an assistant cameraman and second camera operator at RKO during the early '30s, working on such films as Symphony of Six Million and The Penguin Pool Murder (both 1932). He made his debut as a cinematographer in 1935 with West of the Pecos and is credited in some sources as having worked with Joseph August on George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett. Metty subsequently shot Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby in 1938. He became known as a highly gifted and inspired lighting cameraman, inventive in his use of crane shots and in the most subtle aspects of night and twilight shooting. He was a consultant on Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941, photographed by Gregg Toland) and worked under Stanley Cortez on The Magnificent Ambersons the following year. He was Welles' later choice as cinematographer on both The Stranger (1946) and Touch of Evil (1958), and remained at RKO to shoot such titles as Hitler's Children and Tender Comrade. In the mid-'40s, Metty worked on such independent productions as The Story of G.I. Joe and, after a time associated with films released through United Artists, landed at Universal, where he worked for the next two decades.