Charles F. Wheeler landed his first job in show business on a polo field.
A former polo champion at the University of Southern California, Wheeler frequented the Riviera and Will Rogers polo grounds in Los Angeles during the 1950s. He encountered Walt and Roy Disney on the field one day, and struck up a conversation. The Disney brothers offered Wheeler a job as an apprentice cameraman — and launched his five-decade career in Hollywood.
Wheeler served as a Navy combat photographer during World War II. The Memphis, Tenn., native covered the Pacific theater and helped document the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship Missouri in 1945. Twenty-five years later, Wheeler drew on his military experiences to film “Tora! Tora! Tora!” a 1970 picture about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He simultaneously guided five crews on the shoot and earned an Academy Award nomination for his cinematography.
Wheeler was the cameraman or director of photography on more than three dozen films, including “Inherit the Wind,” “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “Silent Running,” “Star Trek,” “Freaky Friday” and “Brewster’s Millions.” He also shot numerous TV shows (“Gunsmoke,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Paper Chase”), and earned an Emmy nomination for filming the 1975 TV movie “Babe.” In 2000, Wheeler received the President’s Award from the American Society of Cinematographers.
Wheeler died on Oct. 28 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and a stroke. He was 88.