Last Friday I was shocked to learn that friend--Bruce Surtees--had suddenly died. He was the son of Robert L. Surtees who won Best Cinematography Oscars or nominations for: King Solomon's Mines, The Bad and the Beautiful, Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis, Oklahoma!...Mutiny on the Bounty, The Graduate, Doctor Dolittle, Summer of '42, The Last Picture Show, The Sting, The Hindenburg, A Star Is Born, The Turning Point, Same Time, Next Year--among his 70+ major film projects.
Bruce attended the College of Art and Design in Pasadena. Then worked for Disney and with his famous dad before becoming an Oscar and Emmy cinematography nominee in his own right. He was best known for his work on Clint Eastwood's films, including Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Play Misty for Me, and for 50+ other films and TV productions including Lenny, Beverly Hills Cop, Risky Business, Escape from Alcatraz, Blume in Love and the cult surfing picture Big Wednesday. He’d made surfing history himself growing up in Malibu…and later was a passionate sailor—even living on his boat moored in the Monterey Bay Yacht Harbor.
The above statue of the boy with a sailboat is how I imagine Bruce as a lad. It's located at Lover's Point...a short stroll on the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail (above with pink ice-plant) from his bungalow on a leafy street in Pacific Grove. He resided with his adored black standard poodle, Fabio (pictured above), amid his own splashy paintings...and with one of his father's Oscars on a side table piled with newspapers and books.
A mention of any Hollywood folk sparked comment. Ronald Reagan (a longtime friend): ‘I filmed a bio for him. He opened his jacket to reveal a 'Property of Warner Brothers' label.' The Travoltas: ‘Nicest people in Hollywood.’ His father: ‘He was filming in post-WII Italy and on his way into the studio would stop to pick-up a then young unknown extra—Sophia Loren--from a displaced persons camp.’ Everyone who knew Bruce urged him to write down all of his fascinating stories.
Bruce had traveled the globe, married twice, saw his daughter Suzanne (who also works in the film biz) through USC Law School. His eyes and face went soft showing a favorite photo of her--tanned and blond and playing volleyball. I received a very sweet note from her that I will treasure.
I made a pilgrimage over to his cottage and stood outside listening to the waves pound the shore and the wind swish in the eucalyptus trees--before tapping on the door. I was let in for a last peek at the ghosts; half-expecting to find Bruce in a Tommy Bahama shirt writing on his laptop at the kitchen table and looking up, ‘Say, let’s go for Thai food.’
Clint Eastwood said Bruce was ‘fearless’ and he was famous for his lighting—especially for his Oscar nominated work on ‘Lenny.’ Hope he’s assigned a primo gig in Heaven…and that he’s lavished with love, affirmation and kindness. You are missed, Brucie. His obituary in UK Guardian: here The others in the NYT and Variety are now offline.