John M. Nickolaus, Jr.

Active - 1929 - 1964  |   Genres - Drama, Action, Western, Horror, Adventure

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John M. Nickolaus Jr. was a 52-year veteran of the American movie business. He worked in the photography departments of every major studio in Hollywood at one time or another and rose from laboratory assistant to become one of the busiest cinematographers of the late '50s and 1960s. The son of John M. Nickolaus Sr., a veteran cameraman whose career dated from the first decade of the 20th century, he was born in Bayonne, NJ, in 1913, at a time when much of the movie business was still on the East Coast. Soon after, however, the family moved to the filmmaking community that was rapidly taking shape in Hollywood. The younger Nickolaus entered the industry at MGM in the mid-'30s, working in the film lab before moving up to assistant cameraman. By 1941, he was a camera operator working with such notables as George Folsey, Joseph Ruttenberg, and John Alton before being assigned to work with two-time Oscar-winner Charles Rosher. They remained together as a team for 14 years, during which Nickolaus distinguished himself in the field of Technicolor and, especially, in successfully capturing the underwater sequences in Esther Williams films. Nickolaus left MGM after Rosher retired and became a director of photography, in the process moving into lower-budgeted, independent productions. His credits included films made at Allied Artists and Lippert Pictures, including Westerns, crime dramas, and science fiction. Among the stranger movies that he shot during this period was Night of the Blood Beast (1958), an eerie, claustrophobic, sci-fi thriller that featured echoes of the contemporary horror film It! The Terror From Beyond Space and elements that anticipated the late-'70s horror-thriller Alien. Nickolaus moved into television work during the early '60s, photographing more than 90 episodes of Rawhide before he was hired by producer Leslie Stevens to work in tandem with Conrad Hall shooting The Outer Limits. He left that series during its first season to become the director of photography on The Travels of Jamie McPheeters, an adventure show set in the 19th century American West starring a young Kurt Russell. Nickolaus also shot 60 episodes of Perry Mason during that program's final seasons before moving on to Peyton Place, which kept him busy for most of the rest of the decade with its twice-weekly broadcast schedule. At the end of the '60s, he worked on the comedy series Room 222, the topical drama Judd for the Defense, and, later, the period drama The Waltons. He finished his career working for producer Irwin Allen on a series of made-for-TV movies. Nickolaus was diagnosed with cancer in the early '80s and retired soon after. He died in 1985 at the age of 71.

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