Monday, May 8, 2017

Born Today May 8: Phil Rosen


Foreign born American film director Phil E. Rosen was born on this date in Marienburg, East Prussia, Germany (now Malbork, Poland) to a Jewish family.  His family must have immigrated to the U.S. when he was quite young, as he grew in a small town in the state of Maine.  He got his start as a cinematographer at the Edison company in Fort Lee, N. J.  It is thought that the first film that he photographed was The Littlest Rebel in 1914.  Though he remained a successful cinematographer through 1921, he made is directorial debut early on in 1915 with The Beachcomber.  By the late 1910's, he had moved to Hollywood, where he continued to work as a cinematographer.  He, for example, was behind the camera on The Miracle Man (1919) directed by George Loane Tucker and starred Lon Chaney (the film is partially lost, but the surviving 23 minutes have been restored). He would not direct another film again until 1919; The Double Hold-Up was a short western made for Universal, starring Hoot Gibson.  In 1918, he became a founding member and first president of the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers).  His years active as president span from 1918 through 1921.  He made his debut as a producer in 1923, when he produced the short documentary Will He Conquer Demsey, an expose' on boxer Luis Firpo and his upcoming battle with famed boxer of the time Jack Dempsey. The first sound film that he directed came in 1929 with the Crime/Thriller The Phantom In The House, sound by the RCA Photophone System.  He is best remembered for being a director who specialized in what is now known as "yellow face" films--the use of white actors who are dressed as Asians for the purposes of mostly mystery films (a practice now fiercely frowned on!).  He is best known for directing several Charlie Chan films with Sidney Toler.  He also directed the Bowery Boys and Bela Lugosi in Spooks Run Wild in 1941 and an Lugosi in Return Of The Ape Man in 1944.  He made his television directorial debut in 1951, directing the episode The Lonely One for the series Front Page Detective; it would turn out to be the last thing he ever directed.  Rosen died on the 22nd of October of that same year in Hollywood at the age of 63.  He is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  One of his two marriage was to silent film and early sound starlet Joyzelle Joyner.

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