September 9, 2008

Cinematic 70th

SCA Celebrates Herb Farmer’s Incredible Seven Decades

By Cristy Lytal

In 1938, a mere nine years after the USC cinema program was founded, Herb Farmer arrived on campus and began a lifelong association that continues to this day. At an anniversary celebration held in Carson Television Center Sound Stage on September 3, Farmer's colleagues, friends and family gathered to celebrate his 70 years of ongoing service to SCA as a student, alumnus, professor and archivist.

"The man is absolutely loyal to the institution that has educated him, and he's given back way more than he ever got," said Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Michael Renov. "Herb is part of the living memory of what film education has become in the past seven decades."

Herb Farmer, center, tests equipment with cinema colleagues, circa 1940.
A video tribute to the 88-year-old Trojan chronicled how he drove across the country from Buffalo, New York in a 1931 Dodge coupe after reading about USC in a film magazine.

Upon his arrival, he became one of the producers of a monthly release called the Trojan Newsreel, shot football coaching films and surgical motion pictures for the university, and played the sousaphone in the marching band.

In 1942, a few months before his graduation, he took over teaching a motion picture history class from a professor who had been called to active duty in World War II. Farmer, who also served during the war, returned to USC to receive his master's degree in 1954, and has been educating students about film technology ever since.

Currently, he dedicates his full-time efforts to overseeing one of his most lasting legacies and gifts to USC, an extensive archive of historical films and equipment ranging from zoetropes to the sound board from The Jazz Singer to prints of Oscar-winning student films. The archive, which is housed in the basement of the Norris Theatre Complex, will supply a trove of artifacts for rotating exhibitions in the new SCA complex when it opens in 2009.

"His devotion and his love for this department is a very nice thing," said Farmer’s son Jim Farmer (B.A. '76, M.A. '81, LAS). "It's like the symbiotic relationship they have in biology when both parties benefit. This university's kept him alive. It's given him a purpose. And yet he's given so much to it, too."

Professor Emeritus Herb Farmer and grand-daughter Lindsey Farmer, who is a junior in production, celebrate the elder Farmer's 70 years at USC.
Jim's daughter Lindsey Farmer, a third-generation Trojan who is currently a junior in film production, made an impromptu speech at the anniversary celebration. "I'm here at this school, all of these students are here, because of the efforts that my grandfather has made," she said.

The reception also featured a performance by the Trojan 10-piece band, congratulatory letters from Dean Elizabeth M. Daley (who was overseas and unable to attend) and President Steven B. Sample, and the unveiling of Farmer's first camera, a Bell & Howell model 70.

"When Herb arrived here 70 years ago, he was a pretty big man on campus because he had a camera and the school didn't," said Doug Wellman, the school's director of facilities and operations. "Herb brought this camera with him across country, and it became the official camera of USC cinema. And as Herb taught here and was a student here, he modified this camera. He added the 400-foot magazine. He added a motor drive. He added a variety of lenses culminating in this zoom lens. And he constantly improved it. And that is exactly what Herb has done for this entire school."

Farmer met the outpouring of gratitude in kind. "It's been a wonderful life working with students here at school," He told the audience. "I'm grateful for the time that I've been able to put into it. And I'd do it again if I had to or could."