Allen Daviau, five-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer who worked on Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Empire of the Sun and The Color Purple, among many other films, died Wednesday of coronavirus. He was 77.
Daviau died at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, the fourth resident at the facility to die of the virus.
“Allen was diagnosed about a week ago and went to West Hills Hospital because of underlying conditions,” Bob Beitcher, MPTF president and CEO told Deadline. “In the last few days, as his condition went downhill and it was clear that he wasn’t going to survive, his friends and healthcare advocates and our staff worked to bring him back to MPTF, because he wanted to die at home. This had been his home for the last eight years.”
Shortly after returning, a letter arrived from Spielberg. “When Allen arrived back home, we got the most beautiful letter from Steven Spielberg, which he asked to be read to Allen. So it was read to him continuously for the last day and a half until he passed. It was by his bedside, and as caregivers came in to check on him, they would read it to him. And each time, he got a little smile on his face. The last night, the nurse on call was a first-timer – it was her first night at MPTF – and she came to Allen’s bedside, saw the letter, and started reading it to him. And when she got to the end, she looked at him; he took two breaths, and passed away. She was discovering who he was as he was leaving the world.”
Spielberg released a statement following Daviau’s passing. “In 1968, Allen and I started our careers
side by side with the short film Amblin. Allen was a wonderful artist but his warmth and humanity were as powerful as his lens. He was a singular talent and a beautiful human being,” Spielberg said.
Following Amblin, Daviau and Spielberg went on to work together on E.T. the Extra- Terrestrial (1982), The Color Purple (1985) and Empire of the Sun (1987), earning three of his five Academy nominations for those films. He also won the BAFTA award for Empire of the Sun. He received his other two Oscar nominations for films he did with Barry Levinson, Avalon in 1990 and Bugsy in 1991.
His other film credits include John Schlesinger’s The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), 1987’s Harry and the Hendersons, produced by Spielberg, Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life (1991), Peter Weir’s Fearless (1993), Frank Marshall’s Congo (1995), Rand Ravich’s The Astronaut’s Wife (1999) and his final feature, Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing in 2004.
Born on June 14, 1942 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Daviau began experimenting with camera work in his teens. After graduating from high school in 1960, he bought a 16mm Beaulieu R16E camera and three Angenieux prime lenses, according to bio by ASC. He started shooting student projects, a music series for local station KHJ-TV, and proto-music videos for acts such as The Who, The Animals and Jimi Hendrix. He also worked as a still photographer on the TV series The Monkees. Years later, he worked with Spielberg on a 1985 episode of the NBC anthology series Amazing Stories.
When Panavision needed a cinematographer to test a new set of lenses or camera system, Daviau was the go-to guy. “Like no one else, he could make beautiful images, and putting his name on the tests was the image-makers stamp of approval,” Bob Harvey, long-time Panavision executive, told Beitcher. “And all it ever cost in the end was a great meal and three hours of amazing conversation!”
John Toll, ASC, a two-time Academy Award-winner in cinematography and Daviau’s camera operator for several years early in his career, said of Daviau, “He was as creative and knowledgeable of the art, craft, and history of cinematography as anyone I’ve ever known.. he was always gracious and happy to share his knowledge and experience with his peers.”
Daviau was honored with lifetime achievement awards from the Art Directors Guild in 1997 and the American Society of Cinematographers in 2007. In addition to his work in film, Daviau served as Cinematographer-in-Residence at the University of California, Los Angeles.