In Memorium

Karl Malkames

May 6, 1926 - March 8, 2010


A.S.C. Cinematographer, Motion Picture Historian, Archivist, Reviver of Lost and Hopelessly Damaged Films, Preservationist Extraordinaire

You will be missed!

L to R: Producer Nick Palazzo, Karl’s Grandson, Film Historian & Preservationist Bruce Lawton, Bruce’s Wife International Concert Guitarist, Alice Artzt and Karl one magical day in Scarsdale, New York.

L to R: Film Historian & Preservationist Bruce Lawton, Karl Malkames, and Producer Antonia G. Carey  blowing off steam after a  fun day of shooting.

and rebuilding of the only existing step printer that had been built in 1899 by Kessler, Marvin and Dickson in Canestota, NY. Karl Malkames modified it to generate fine grain master prints from the unique Biograph negatives. The Biograph camera had been designed to punch randomly spaced perforations in the frame line on 35mm negative stock in order to circumvent infringement on Thomas Edison’s patents that specified equally spaced perforations. The specialized equipment Malkames designed and built to convert the obsolete gauges was used in almost all instances by his clients to preserve historical motion pictures for archival purposes. His Biograph equipment is probably the only machine that has been in continuous use for motion picture film for over 100 years; it is in working condition, awaiting some obscure newly discovered Biograph negative film. (See JSMPTE, Dec. 1999, pp 858-859). Many of the historical images we see in the media, which originated in formats no longer in use, would not be available to the general public without the dedication and expertise of Karl Malkames.

Among his approximately 90 clients were the Museum of Modern Art, Edison National Historic Site, American Film Institute, George Eastman House, I.M.Pei & partners, IBM Corp. Archives, Library of Congress, National Broadcasting System, Killiam Shows, Oscar Hammerstein Family Archives, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp, U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Navy and others.

Malkames was also curator of the Malkames Camera Museum in Scarsdale, NY. His collection of about 40 historic cameras includes the most famous of all historic cameras, a 1895 Lumiere camera, printer, projector that was used to project a film in Keith’s Union Square Theater (New York City) on June 29th, 1896. Also among the oldest is a Demeny combination camera/printer/projector that was used to photograph Queen Victoria is 1893. Other cameras filmed the Hindenburg disaster of May 6, 1937; the Admiral Byrd expedition to the North Pole in 1926; a Colt Criterioscope that was carried by Vitagraph’s Albert Smith up San Juan Hill and followed Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in 1898; the San Francisco earthquake; D. W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation; the Burton Holmes Travelogues of the 1930s and other historical events.

Malkames was a member of the Cinematographer’s division of the AMPAS; a Director of Photography (DP) for RKO Pathe, Warner Brothers-Pathe, Pathe Pictures and a producer of many films. During World War II he served in the Pacific Theater of Operations in the US Navy’s submarine Service. His company fulfilled a sole source contract with the Navy to produce a classified film using his invention of a system to record computerized displays from radar scopes. He has even been called as an expert witness in patent litigations related to the industry.

The Malkames Motion Picture Library contains, literally, thousands of books and periodicals relating to the industry. In 1988 he donated to the Society a Graphoscope 35mm projector, designed by C. Francis Jenkins, a founder of the SMPTE. It was accepted by then Society President Carlos Kennedy and, for many years, it was displayed in the Society’s former West Hartsdale’s NY headquarters.

In addition to his many activities over the years, he has been a frequent contributor of historical papers for the SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal, especially on behalf of the SMPTE’s Archival Papers and Historical Committee.

Submitted by Edgar A. Schuller, Chairman, Archival Papers and Historical Committee. 3-9-2010

Karl Malkames Obituary for

Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers

Special thanks to the Malkames Family and to Mr. Edgar A. Schuller for allowing us to reprint their kind words about Karl Malkames on this site.

BACK to Karl’s PageKarl_Malkames.html

Upon his release from the Navy, he followed in his father's footsteps and embarked on a career in motion pictures, serving as an assistant cameraman - often to his father - working his way up to becoming a cinematographer and a member of the American Society of Cinematographers.  Probably his most rewarding period behind the camera was as a staff cameraman for Warner-Pathe News - a position he held till the newsreel folded in 1956, a casualty of the advent of television.  His assignments behind the camera were numerous and varied - providing second unit photography to such productions as the 1958 Robert Mitchum drive-in classic THUNDER ROAD (executing all the memorable car chase sequences) as well as work on specialty assignments such as 'old age' make-up tests of Dustin Hoffman for his fabled role in 1970's LITTLE BIG MAN.   

However it was his work in the then new field of film restoration and preservation in which Mr. Malkames truly found his niche. His affinity for films from the early days of the industry, coupled with a unique facility for designing, adapting, building and operating cinemachinery, resulted in his single-handedly saving literally hundreds of films - usually too fragile or deteriorated to be handled by then conventional methods.  Much of the extensive output of The Biograph Company (and thus the early work of D.W. Griffith) as well as numerous other subjects, was preserved by Mr. Malkames for The Museum of Modern Art. Along with Biograph - his most singular achievement for MoMA was his preservation of the 1930 "Fox Grandeur" epic, THE BIG TRAIL (starring a fledgling John Wayne) from the original 70mm camera negative, which was found to be too shrunken to be copied.  Mr. Malkames spent an entire year on the project - from designing and building a special printer, through to the painstaking reproduction of the film. Also of note was his long association with film historian-showman, Paul Killiam - for whom he restored dozens of silent era classics for the Emmy-award winning television series, "The Silent Years" - in which he also photographed the intros with Lillian Gish.  Key works by the likes of D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Mary Pickford, John Barrymore, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow and Tom Mix were saved for posterity thanks to his work with Killiam.   

In 1979, Mr. Malkames wrote and produced a documentary, THE MOTION PICTURE CAMERA - a loving tribute to silent era cinemachinery, which showcases examples from his own family's comprehensive collection.

He had three children: His daughter, Marty Lawton, predeceased him in 2005 and he is survived by a son, Rick Malkames - also a cinematographer, a daughter, Christine Malkames - a graphic artist,  eleven grandchildren, including Bruce Lawton who is a film historian, and four great-grandchildren.

Karl Malkames, a cinematographer, inventor, film historian and pioneering motion picture film preservationist, died March 8th at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y.  He was 83 years old.

Mr. Malkames was born in Hazelton, PA. on May 6th, 1926 to veteran cameraman, Don Malkames and his then wife, Dorothy Klotz. His childhood was surrounded by and immersed in the trappings of the early motion picture industry.  At the age of 16, he enlisted in the Navy and thus followed a stint at Pearl Harbor and service as an electronics technician aboard the submarine, U.S.S. Chopper.  On June 6, 1948 he married his high school sweetheart, June Dougherty of Hazelton, PA.  

D. Karl Malkames, ASC, SMPTE Life Fellow and noted Archival Film Reproduction Specialist, died on Monday, March 8, 2010 at the age of 84. His many unusual contributions to the motion picture industry will long be remembered after his passing. He was an inventor and engineer who designed and built optical printers to accommodate all odd gauges of motion picture films so that malformed or discontinued gauges of films could be transferred to standard 35mm film. Those film gauges included the 1930s Fox Grandeur 70mm system; the 1897 68mm Corbett- Fitzsimmons fight; 22mm and 24mm Edison Kinetoscopes of 1910; 28mm Pathex films of 1918; 68mm Mutograph system of 1895 and many other formats. A notable accomplishment was his restoration and