Celebrated filmmaker Survived WWII German Occupation
George Koblasa stood silently, holding his father’s hand, watching tanks, trucks and motorcycles roar by as the German occupation army marched into Prague, Czechoslovakia. The year was 1939; he was six years old. The celebrated cinematographer, named by Kodak as one of the 100 finest in the world, has called Park City home since 1999.
"I remember that day quite clearly," he says. "It was March, snowy and cold. I saw people throwing rocks and snowballs at the soldiers. People were angry and screaming. When we went home my mother was crying." Within days, he says, Nazi flags were flying all over the city.
Koblasa and his family lived under World War II occupation for the next six years until the Russian "liberators" arrived in 1945, leading to yet another form of tyranny. Growing up, Koblasa rankled under the oppressive yoke of Communism. He dreamed of freedom and liberty constantly, a dream that ultimately drove him to a desperate act.
Wheels were set in motion for 12-year-old Koblasa when he decided he wanted to document the world around him. "I don’t know why, but one day my dad came home with a camera for me which he traded for some bread. That was the beginning," he says.
Koblasa graduated from Nerudovo Gymnasium [like an American high school], where he was the official school photographer. "This school was known for its dramatic, visual arts and music programs," he says.
From 1952 to 1958, he worked as a camera assistant at Barrandov Film Studios in Prague while attending film school at night at Charles University. While there, he worked with some of the leading cinematographers in Europe. Through it all Koblasa harbored his dream of freedom.
He saw his opportunity when, inexplicably, he was allowed to go on a cruise around the Balkans, including Turkey and Greece with a group of Party faithfuls. He found out later that an old school friend, who had become a travel agent, had approved his trip, despite the fact that he was never a member of the Communist Party. At a Greek harbor near Athens, Koblasa jumped overboard. Nearly drowning, he was plucked from the water by Greek authorities, who later granted him political asylum.
That perilous leap into the Mediterranean Sea marked the end of Koblasa’s life under Communism and began a 15-month-long process that led to his arrival in New York City in 1959 as a political refugee. He became an American citizen in 1965.
Koblasa never forgot those early, oppressive years. In 2013 he published a book chronicling hisexperiences growing up under German and Communist rule, titled simply "I Remember Stories From The Past." Of the book, he writes, "This is a book of dreams, hope and the unknown meaning of personal freedom and liberty."
Within months of his arrival here, Koblasa had gotten himself to Hollywood, the culmination of yet another dream. He took a job cleaning film at a film library and gradually worked his way up the "tinseltown" ladder. His big break came in the early 1960s, when he was given the opportunity to create the opening sequence for "The Fugitive," a popular television series of the era.
For over 40 years, Koblasa crafted a career in Hollywood as a cinematographer and director in both feature film and television. He worked for most of the major film studios, including Columbia Pictures, Disney, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Universal Studios. Over the years he garnered many distinguished awards and nominations as a director and cinematographer. He is a member of the Director Guild of America, the American Society of Cinematographers, Screen Actors Guild and The International Photographers Guild. In 1977 he founded Icarus Enterprises, Ltd., a California corporation serving the entertainment industry for 22 years.
In 1999, Koblasa "retired" from Hollywood and moved to Park City, a town he had grown to love during many ski trips here. He settled in Silver Springs, where he remains today.
In 2006 he married Margaret, an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga therapy trainer he met in California. Together they are proud parents of six grown children from previous marriages.
Throughout his life, Koblasa has adhered to a simple philosophy: "keep moving!" At a point when most people have long since retired, he remains active and enthusiastic. Still an avid photographer, he recently launched a new business specializing in "head shots" for area actors and business professionals.
"If you’re in the market, go to http://www.headshotsbygk.com," he grins.
Beyond his distinguished career, Koblasa is above all an outspoken supporter of freedom and liberty. "I am passionate about our Constitution, its amendments and the Bill of Rights, all nonexistent to me before arriving in America that special day: August 24, 1959.
You can learn more about George Koblasa at his website, http://www.koblasa.com.
Steve Phillips is a Park City-based writer and actor. Send your profile comments and suggestions to him at email@example.com
- Favorite thing to do: still photography and travel
- Favorite foods: "Italian and French. Fish is a must."
- Favorite reading/authors: WWII mysteries and suspense; Robert Ludlum, David Baldacci, John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Lee Child.
- Favorite music: Popular, classical (Beethoven), Italian operas, techno and jazz.
- Bucket list: Write another book, travel to Israel, attend more plays and concerts.
Utah’s Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal will perform her book-length work ‘West: A Translation’ Thursday at the Kimball Art Center