Gilbert Taylor, the legendary British cinematographer best known for his work on such films as Star Wars; the 1976 film The Omen; and Dr Strangelove has died at the age of 99. Taylor’s wife Dee told the BBC that he had died on Friday.
Gilbert Taylor was born on April 12, 1914 in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. His first position in the film industry was to work as a camera assistant for Gainsborough Studios in 1929.The studios were located, like many others, in London.
Taylor worked on some of the most iconic films ever made and with some of the world’s most prestigious directors. His credits included such classics as Ice Cold In Alex, Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac, the last two films, made with Roman Polanski, earned him two “back-to-back” BAFTA nominations.
Of course, Taylor was best known to more recent film fans as the cinematographer for George Lucas’ Star Wars. About Star Wars, Taylor said that he had wanted it to have a “unique visual style.”
Gilbert’s wife Dee, whom he had been married to since 1967 and who was 23 years younger than him, told the BBC that her husband had turned down “a Bond Picture” to work with Polanski on the two BAFTA nominated films he’d done with the director because, “he thought Roman was a very interesting guy.”
Gilbert Taylor met Dee, who was a script supervisor, on the set of the 1963 Tony Hancock film The Punch and Judy Man and the two got married four years later. The legendary British cinematographer, who had carte blanche on the Star Wars film, was well known for his work on many iconic and classic films before his death on Friday.
But it is his work on Star Wars that stands out to modern audiences. Of George Lucas’ first in the long Star War’s saga, Gilbert said to American Cinematographer magazine that George “avoided all meetings and contact with me from day one. That left the decision of how to shoot the film up to him. Taylor said, “So I read the extra-long script many times and made my own decisions as to how I would shoot the picture.”
One of Taylor’s favorite projects was the 1964 Stanley Kubrick film Doctor Strangelove. He would say later that, “Lighting that set was sheer magic. I don’t quite know how I got away with it all.” It was Gilbert’s work on that film that prompted Polanski to hire him.
Gilbert Taylor had a long and distinguished career and had over 70 titles to his credit as a cinematographer. He also served six years in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and, at the request of Winston Churchill, photographed and filmed the results of nighttime bombing raids over Germany.
He founded the British Society of Cinematographers, that in 2001 presented him with a lifetime achievement award. Taylor also did a lot of work in television working on such iconic shows as The Avengers, The Pathfinders and The Baron. He actually stopped working on feature length films in 1994, but he still worked on commercials as well as teaching himself how to paint.
His wife Dee, who told the BBC that, “There was nothing he couldn’t do.” Dee worked with her husband until his death. In the 1970s, when the British film industry faced lean times, Dee and Gilbert set up a dairy farm with a herd of 250 cattle. Dee said that Gilbert was “wonderful, kind, funny, amusing [and] terribly talented in every aspect”.
Gilbert Taylor, the legendary British Star Wars cinematographer, died Friday surrounded by his wife Dee and his family at the couple’s home on the Isle of Wight.
By Michael Smith