Ernest G. Palmer

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Ernest G. Palmer (b. Kansas City, Missouri, 06/12/1885 – d. Pacific Palisades, California, 22/02/1978) was an American cinematographer.


Ernest George Palmer was a prolific American cinematographer who worked with many major Hollywood filmmakers and shot several of the early films of directors such as John M. Stahl, Frank Borzage and Frank Lloyd. In 1942 he and Ray Rennahan shared an Academy Award for the cinematography of Rouben Mamoulian’s Blood and Sand and he was nominated for three other films, including Anthony Mann’s Broken Arrow (1950). Not all his films were major productions and towards the end of his career his work became less interesting. All the titles listed by IMDb were shot after 1918, though according to an issue of the New York Clipper, he was already a partner in the Monarch Feature Film Co., based in Albany, as early as December 1912. In fact, even earlier than that, in 1909, he had accompanied Henry Howse on a film expedition to China for the China Inland Mission, though for the 1910 Census he was registered as a machinist at the railway yards in Topeka, Kansas, where his father was a carpenter.

Not long afterwards he went to Great Britain, where he is known to have worked on Herbert Brenon’s Ivanhoe (1913), George Loane Tucker’s The Prisoner of Zenda (1915) and possibly the latter’s sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (1915). Also in England, he filmed a war-time documentary entitled Fighting the German Raiders (1916), as well the propaganda short Everybody’s Business (1917). The Cape Times of 13 December 1917 reported that much of his war-time work was “done under the supervision of D.W. Griffith” which probably means that he may have shot some of the footage used in Griffith’s Hearts of the World (1918). He retired in 1960 and was one of the founder members of the American Society of Cinematographers.

When he came to South Africa to shoot The Rose of Rhodesia (1918) and possibly Thoroughbreds All (1918) for Harold M. Shaw, it was reported that Palmer had “photographed all the principal pictures that Mr. Shaw has made, both in America and England”. Though this is difficult to verify, it seems that he definitely shot Shaw’s England’s Menace (1914). Like Shaw, he had worked for the Independent Moving Pictures Company of America and, like him, later joined the London Film Company. There is certainly no evidence that Palmer had been approached by African Film Productions, so it is very likely that he came to South Africa at Shaw’s invitation and, possibly, at the behest of Henry Howse, to whom he was related. He left South Africa in December 1917, before the films had been edited, to return to the United States after an absence of several years. By September 1918 he was with Anita Stewart Productions at the Vitagraph Studios in New York and after that he settled in Hollywood.


Curiously, there is an early photograph of him issued by John Stahl Productions in which he is identified as Ernest S. Palmer, which is also the name he is given in the 1922-23 Film Daily Yearbook of Motion Pictures as a member of the A.S.C. Also, he is frequently confused with the British cinematographer Ernest Palmer (1901-1964) and some published filmographies include the works of both. (FO)


The Cape Times, 13 December 1917

The Moving Picture World, 9 March 1918

The Moving Picture World, 10 August 1918

Brownlow, Kevin - The war, the West and the wilderness

Low, Rachel - The History of British Film 1906-1914

Low, Rachel - The History of British Film 1914-1918

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