b. Charleston, Illinois, 29 May 1904, d. 26 September 1948
Although he shot more than sixty films, including Kidnapped (1938) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) for Darryl F. Zanuck, Wuthering Heights (1939, for which he won an Academy Award ® ), The Little Foxes (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and The Bishop's Wife (1947) for Samuel Goldwyn, The Outlaw (1943) for Howard Hughes, and Intermezzo (1939) for David O. Selznick, it is for a single effort, in collaboration with a newcomer to Hollywood, that Gregg Toland's name is most frequently associated with extraordinary achievement in cinematography: Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941). Toland asked Welles to use him on the picture, since he wanted to learn by working with a man who did not know anything about cinematography.
With deep-focus, high-keyed illumination technique specially adapted for this project, Toland provided Welles with stunningly sharp images. Especially notable are the election speech scene (with its exceptionally high contrast and provocative shooting angles), Kane stumbling past the mirrors at Xanadu (with tautly controlled lighting that produces explosive mirror effects), and the warehouse finale (reprised by Steven Spielberg in Raiders of the Lost Ark , 1981), shot with great depth of field and a moving camera. With its simultaneous dramatic action in front, middle, and rear planes of focus, Citizen Kane became a landmark of cinematographic vision in Hollywood film. Welles also wanted "lateral depth of focus" and so Toland used wide-angle lenses with very small apertures; all of this required very intense illumination and led to high-contrast images.
Toland entered the motion picture industry as an office boy and became a lighting cameraman before he was twenty. He worked intensively with William Cameron Menzies but avoided being trapped in a studio contract; then he became invaluable to Goldwyn, who because he wanted Toland free for The Bishop's Wife refused to loan him to Howard Hawks for Red River (1949). The extraordinary intensity of Toland's collaborations with John Ford on The Long Voyage Home (1940) and The Grapes of Wrath stemmed from the men's shared alcoholism and Ford's admiration for Toland's ability to work with great decisiveness. On Citizen Kane , Toland was continually offering Welles what he had learned with Fordunnecessary editing could be avoided by playing scenes, wherever possible, in a single shot.
Just before his death, Toland had perfected an f.64 lens that could provide depth of field to infinity with "perfect" focus. He is memorialized in the American Film Institute's documentary, Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography (1992).
The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Long Voyage Home (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), The Little Foxes (1941), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Bazin, André. Orson Welles: A Critical View . Foreword by François Truffaut. Los Angeles: Acrobat Books, 1991.
Bogdanovich, Peter. "The Kane Mutiny." In Focus on Citizen Kane , edited by Ronald Gottesman, 2853. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976.
Callow, Simon. Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu . London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.
Eyman, Scott. Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford . New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Kael, Pauline. The Citizen Kane Book . New York: Limelight, 1984.