Donn Cambern, the Oscar-nominated Romancing the Stone film editor whose credits also include Easy Rider, The Last Picture Show and Ghostbusters II and was a longtime president of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, died Wednesday, his family told the guild. He was 93.
Born on October 9, 1929, in Los Angeles, Cambern came from a showbiz family. His father was in the music-publishing business, and his mother played harp on movie soundtracks including Top Hat for the RKO Pictures orchestra. He graduated from UCLA in 1952 and landed a gig at Disney as a messenger.
He began his career in 1960s television, serving as music editor for episodes of I Spy, That Girl and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir along with scores of episodes of both The Andy Griffith Show and its spinoff Gomer Pyle, USMC.
Cambern pivoted to features by the late ’60s, and among his first projects was Easy Rider, the 1969 counterculture road-trip classic starring Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and its director, Dennis Hopper. After editing the Nicholson-helmed Drive, He Said, his next gig was Peter Bogdanovich’s 1970 Best Picture Oscar nominee The Last Picture Show.
Cambern went on to edit films by such big-name directors as Paul Mazursky (Blume in Love, Willie & Phil, Tempest), Robert Wise (The Hindenburg), John Cassavetes (Big Trouble) and Ivan Reitman (Twins, Ghostbusters II), along with Robert Zemeckis on Romancing the Stone, for which Cambern landed the film’s only Oscar nom. He also worked twice with David Sternberg and several times with Hal Needham, editing his Burt Reynolds starrers including Hooper, Cannonball Run II and Paternity.
Other editing credits include The Bodyguard, Rookie of the Year, Major League II, Harry and the Hendersons and Richard Pryor’s JoJo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling.
Along the way, Cambern was elected president of MPSE — IATSE Local 700 — in 1992 and served in the post until 2001.
“Donn was one of those rare kinds of people who was loved by everyone who came into contact with him, including all of us at the guild,” said Cathy Repola, MPSE’s National Executive Director. “During his years serving as president of the guild, he was instrumental in initiating and steering us through significant changes that have ultimately benefitted all of the members. We are forever grateful to him.”
Cambern also served as a longtime Governor for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Editors Branch and was a VP of the Academy for several years. He also taught editing at American Film Institute.