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World

Oscar-Winning Cinematographer Walter Lassally Dies At 90

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The man responsible for the look of a classic film has died. Walter Lassally was a cinematographer for "Zorba The Greek" and won an Oscar for that. He died on a Greek island, Crete, at the age of 90 after a life of traveling the world telling epic stories. Joanna Kakissis reports on the man and his work.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Walter Lassally was born in Berlin in 1926 to an engineer father who made industrial films. In a 2004 interview, he recalls how his father animated the film reels by hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALTER LASSALLY: And occasionally at, you know, age about 6 or 7 or 8, I was allowed to help by cranking the handle or whatever.

KAKISSIS: Then the Nazis came for his family, who are Christians with Jewish heritage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LASSALLY: For Hitler, of course, Jewishness wasn't a religion, it was a race. So if your grandma was Jewish then you were Jewish. That was that.

KAKISSIS: Lassally's family fled to Britain in 1939. The young refugee grew up to be a sought-after cameraman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAKISSIS: He shot documentaries about jazz in London, then moved on to feature films around the world. In 1955, he flew to Athens to meet Cypriot director Mihalis Kakogiannis and his crew.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LASSALLY: They were expecting, I think, some sort of English gentleman. And I can still remember they all stared at me like that. That boy is going to photograph our movie? (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAKISSIS: He went on to make six films with Kakogiannis, most famously a 1964 epic about a larger-than-life Greek.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Anthony Quinn in the role he was born to play, Zorba the Greek.

KAKISSIS: Zorba became a legend, and Lassally won an Oscar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The winner is Walter Lassally for "Zorba The Greek."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ZORBA THE GREEK")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Hey, you laugh. (Laughter).

KAKISSIS: He chose a beach on Crete for the famous closing dance scene. Lassally lived his last years near that beach and gave his Oscar to a local taverna. His neighbors called him Walter the Greek. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.