Born in southern California, Kline grew up with a passion for surfing. But his father was Benjamin H. Kline (1894-1974), an early and prolific cinematographer and film director (a cinematographer is the director of photography for a film or TV show). One uncle was Sol Halperin (1902-1977), special effects artist and cinematographer. And another uncle was Phil Rosen (1888-1951), a film director and the co-founder of the American Society of Cinematographers in 1919. So not surprisingly, Kline went into the family business, starting at the bottom as a slate boy. After an interruption by World War II (he joined the Navy) and then getting his degree in Fine Art, he worked his way up and became a cinematographer, and joined the American Society of Cinematographers.
Kline worked on about 200 films, including multiple Three Stooges shorts, before he was named Director of Photography in 1963. By 1967, he was nominated for an Academy Award, for Camelot. He also led the photography efforts for Hang ’Em High, The Andromeda Strain, Soylent Green, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, King Kong (earning another Oscar nomination), Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Body Heat, My Stepmother Is an Alien, and dozens more. “I guess you could say I was genetically predestined to become a cameraman,” Kline once said, and he was a good one: he was given the American Society of Cinematographers’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. He especially remembered the location filming for 1976’s King Kong, where Kong climbed not the Empire State Building, but the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. In all, 30,000 people were gathered at the base to witness Kong hitting the pavement. “It became very difficult to control the crowd at the end, and they literally tore [animatronics expert Carlo] Rambaldi’s Kong apart. They wanted souvenirs, and someone even stole his eyes, which were the size of bowling balls.” Kline retired in 1997, and died August 7, at 91.