Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Film Color Story Recalled by Death

Cleveland Press January 26, 1967

A movie pioneer died a few days ago, but his passing created little stir outside the industry. Yet his efforts had some of the greatest effects on films.

The man was Herbert T. Kalmus who died at the age of 81 in Los Angeles.

Kalmus was the scientist who invented Technicolor and who headed the Technicolor Corp., which he founded in 1912, until 1960 when he retired.

The acceptance of Technicolor in the mid '30's was a stimulus to a depression ridden industry, almost as important as sound a few years earlier and comparable to the introduction of wide screen techniques after television began its inroads.

Movie historians list "The Gulf Between," 1917, as the first complete reel using the process. The color technique was used in bits and pieces of other movies until 1926 when Douglas Fairbanks made the first complete color film, "The Black Pirate." In 1923, an earlier "Ben-Hur" used a color sequence.

In the early 30's Walt Disney used Technicolor for "Three Little Pigs" and "The Big Bad Wolf."

Process Improved

In 1935 an improved Technicolor process was used in "Becky Sharp," a movie version of "Vanity Fair" which gave the system the impetus it needed.

(For years I thought "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine," made in 1936, was the first color film. But then that shows what a youngster I am.)

Film Daily's Production Guide and Director's Annual for 1936 noted the effect of the new process with these words:

"Color, which during the past year crept: forward cautiously but surely, is destined to continue its progress during 1936-37 -- but with definite, positive strides.

Stayed in Background

"American distributors are planning to deliver at least 20 all-color features during the season ahead, it is indicated by early season plans. Compare this total with the color output of the past year, which only amounted to several features, and you realize that this production ingredient is assuming mighty proportions in the industry."

Kalmus remained in the background, continuing to develop the process and the special equipment needed to use it. It wasn't until the late 40's that a film system was developed that didn't require the use of special Technicolor cameras.

The name of Natalie Kalmus, his wife, was familiar to that segment of the audience that is addicted to reading film credits.

Though they were divorced in 1921, she remained with the company as color consultant and her services were required on every Technicolor film until 1948.

There are other color systems in use by the movies today -- Eastman Color and Metrocolor to name two.

But to the average fan any color movie is still Technicolor.