Ray June’s Filter Cabinet of Curiosities

One of the more surprising and interesting relics we found in the Lucky Brown MovieTech collection was this outwardly nondescript wooden case. We were first intrigued by the MGM decals on the top and front of the case, how heavy it was, and by the name Ray June inscribed on the lid. Inside this custom case was a meticulously selected collection of glass and gelatin photographic filters. The cabinet features a top section and two drawers below to keep the filters neat and easily accessible, a sign of a true artist’s tools.

Sadly I wasn’t familiar with Mr. June initially, but when we opened the box and saw the careful collection of photographic filters inside, this demanded further research. Ray June, ASC, it turns out, was one of Hollywood’s most important golden-age cinematographers, known particularly for his work at MGM. June is credited with establishing the “MGM look” during his more than 20 years with the studio.

His film career began in 1914 in the Wharton studio in his hometown of Ithaca, New York. He began working in the film developing lab, then, through circumstances beyond his control, became head of the laboratory and eventually the main cameraman for the studio as well. After serving in World War I teaching camera skills to soldiers as part of the Army Signal Corps’ motion picture division, June returned to the Wharton studio, and soon followed the Whartons to Hollywood.

He next went to work for Marshall Neilan on a film called “Penrod” (1922). June made his first sound feature, “Alibi” in 1929 for United Artists. He also received two Academy Award nominations for his work as a cinematographer during his tenure at United Artists, one for “Arrowsmith” in 1931, and the other for “Barbary Coast” in 1935. Around 1937, June moved to MGM where he remained for much of the balance of his career. June was known as the consummate problem solver, and was the go-to guy to photograph the most intricate and difficult scenes. He was nominated for a third Oscar in 1957 for his work on “Funny Face” starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. A really fascinating and remarkable guy!