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William A. Fraker, 1923 – 2010

June 2, 2010 |  1:11 pm

LA me.fraker
William A. Fraker
In my two-story career as a freelancer for American Cinematographer, I interviewed the late William Fraker on location in Florence, Ariz., for the 1985 James Garner-Sally Field movie "Murphy's Romance," directed by Martin Ritt.

For my previous feature, Reynaldo "Ray" Villalobos shooting "Desert Bloom" on location in Tucson, where I was living at the time, I was given free access to visit the set, chat with the actors and crew, and ask Ray endless questions about what he was doing and why he was doing it. I spent hours with Ray, who was very kind and patient with me. 

The Fraker interview turned out to be a far different experience -- a one-time face-to-face talk for about an hour that was pleasant but wasn't going to provide the sort of depth I was hoping for.

The magazine, published by the American Society of Cinematographers, had recently infuriated the group’s members by saying that foreign films were usually superior to domestic films. So the feature on "Murphy's Romance" was intended to make peace with Fraker, who served several terms as the society’s president.

From what I was told by the editor, whose name I have forgotten, I expected Fraker to be somewhat temperamental, but he was a true gentleman and I've often reflected on what appears to be a little-known story about his life. 

My homework revealed that Fraker's father had been a prominent studio photographer, so I asked if that's how he learned the trade. Not at all.

He said that he learned photography from his grandmother. This is his story:

His father was living in Los Angeles and married a young woman who had fled the Mexican Revolution with her family. He didn't have a profession, so his mother-in-law, who had worked at a photo studio in Mexico, taught him photography. When Fraker reached a certain age, she also taught him photography.

I finally filed the interview after fleshing it out by talking to Ritt, but I was always dissatisfied with it. Oddly enough, over the next 25 years, not a month has gone by that I don't think of Fraker's story about learning photography from his Mexican grandmother. To me, it shows how deceptively complicated family history can be and reflects the almost indescribable cultural mix that is Los Angeles. I never learned this woman's name, but she must have been quite a photographer.