When my father, Jeff Corey, was hired for the role of Mr. Ruby in the film, Seconds, he asked me if I wanted to go to the set with him. I immediately said, “Yes.” I was thirteen years old and was just getting used to my father working again as an actor after being blacklisted for twelve years. Going to the set with him helped make up for all the lost time I didn’t get to see him act when I was younger.
Seconds was directed by the darkly artistic John Frankenheimer and starred Rock Hudson. A brooding, film noir thriller, Seconds was a far cry from the Doris Day Pillow Talk genre Rock was famous for but there he was in all his handsome glory, laughing with the cast and crew and making it all look easy.
That day on the set of Seconds I did not want to get in anyone’s way. As I was trying to make myself as small as possible, James Wong Howe, the film’s cinemaphotographer, appeared out of nowhere and motioned for me to come with him. Although I did not know it at the time, James was one of the most well respected cinematographers in Hollywood and had already won two Academy Awards for his work on The Rose Tattoo and Hud.
I followed James over to his camera at the edge of the set. With his eyes shinning and a huge grin on his face, he pointed to his seat and said, “Sit up there.” He then instructed me to look through the crosshairs of his viewfinder at the scene they were about to shoot.
It was amazing to see the scene through that lens. Without warning, James swung the camera up and over so that I could see what it would look like when he followed the actors as they moved through their dialogue. His camera loader and a host of underlings stood there smiling, thoroughly enjoying my ride. I was so shy back then I’m quite certain I was blushing pale pink if not bright red.
I finally pulled my eye away from the viewfinder and mutter a hushed, and hopefully, audible “Thank you.” James grinned at me one more time and helped me down off my perch. I walked as quietly as I could back to my hiding place behind a wall of the set.
It was thrilling to look through that camera but what I remember most about that day are James’ twinkling eyes and the kind generosity of that master cinematographer who took the time to invite a young, teenage girl to look at the world through his eyes.