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Alexander, John White (07 October 1856–31 May 1915), artist, was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, the son of John Alexander and Fanny Smith. Alexander’s father died soon after his birth, and his mother died when he was five years old. Sent to live with his maternal grandparents, Alexander left school at the age of twelve to work as a messenger for the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company in Pittsburgh. Colonel Edward Jay Allen, an official of the firm, was impressed by a sketch done by Alexander. Allen eventually adopted Alexander....

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Aronson, Boris ( October 1900–16 November 1980), scene and costume designer, was born in Kiev, Russia, the son of Solomon Aronson, the chief rabbi of Kiev, and Deborah Turfsky. By the age of eight he was exhibiting astonishing artistic talent and went on to study art in Kiev, Moscow, and Paris....

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Ayers, Lemuel Delos (22 January 1915–14 August 1955), theatrical designer and producer, was born in New York City, the son of Lemuel Delos Ayers, a physician, and Hazel Carleton Bisland. As a student at Princeton University, he was a member of the Theatre Intime and gained early recognition for his productions of ...

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Beck, Julian (31 May 1925–14 September 1985), stage designer and author, was born in New York City, the son of Irving Beck, an auto parts salesman, and Mabel Lucille Blum, a teacher. Unlike his parents, who had struggled to overcome poverty, Julian benefited in his youth from middle-class comforts he later repudiated. In 1943 he abandoned his studies at Yale University to become a painter and writer in New York. There he met seventeen-year-old Judith Malina, whom he married in 1948 and with whom he had two children....

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Bernstein, Aline Frankau (22 December 1880–07 September 1955), set and costume designer and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Joseph Frankau, an actor, and Rebecca Goldsmith. Joseph Frankau, who was of German-Jewish ancestry, first named his daughter Hazel, but her mother changed it to Aline. Educated in the New York public schools and raised in the theater, as a child Aline wanted to be an actress, but her father encouraged her talent for drawing instead. After the early deaths of her parents (both had died by 1897), Aline became the ward of her aunt, Rachel, a drug addict. She attended Hunter College as a student of fine art. Tom Watson, a family friend and a member of the board of directors of the New York School of Applied Design, arranged for her to study drawing on scholarship at the school. She later studied portrait painting with ...

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Norman Bel Geddes Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G401-T-4759-003).

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Geddes, Norman Bel (21 April 1893–08 May 1958), scene and lighting designer, industrial designer, and producer, was born Norman Melancton Geddes in Adrian, Michigan, the son of Clifton Terry Geddes and Gloria Lulu Yingling. He was educated in public schools in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois before attending the Cleveland School of Art and the prestigious Chicago Art Institute by the time he was sixteen years old. When he was in his early twenties, Geddes had his earliest successes as a magazine and poster artist in Detroit, Michigan. He designed his first theatrical production, ...

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Hoyt, Henry E. (?1834–30 December 1906), theatrical scene painter and designer, was born in New Hampshire; other details of his early years and personal life outside his theatrical career are not documented. Hoyt’s career spanned a period of drastic change in the business arrangements of New York’s commercial theater. Theater managers abandoned the “stock company” approach of hiring a company of actors and a design staff to produce an entire season of plays, opting instead for “combination” production, that is, hiring actors for the run of a single play and contracting out sets and costumes to the lowest bidder among designers working for competing commercial studios. Judging from his major credits, Henry Hoyt seems to have preferred to continue working as a freelancer and was fortunate in having developed relationships with managements that continued to use the old production system....

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Hume, Samuel James (14 June 1885–01 September 1962), scene designer, director, and educator, was born in Berkeley, California, the son of James Bunyan Hume, a law enforcement officer, and Linda Murison. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and became interested in theater. Before completing his degree, Hume went to Europe to study scene design under one of the most outspoken visionaries of the early twentieth century stage, Edward Gordon Craig. Craig insisted that the modern theater had become mired in what he called “photographic realism.” He proposed a visual theater that merged action, scene, and voice with scenic pictures that heightened the emotional aspects of the play. Hume studied for nearly a year at Craig’s Arena Goldoni School in Florence, Italy, before the outbreak of World War I forced the closing of the school. However, the influence of Craig on Hume was significant enough for him to return to the United States a confirmed devotee of Craig’s theories. It became Hume’s goal to bring the “New Stagecraft,” which was becoming predominant in Europe, to his homeland....

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Johnson, Albert Richard (01 February 1910–21 December 1967), scene designer, was born in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, the son of Albert Aaron Johnson, a college educator, and Anne Ellene Glenn, a newspaper reporter. Johnson began his show business career at age fifteen, painting scenery for the opera house in Farmingdale, Long Island. The following year, with his father’s financial support, he became the manager of the Green Cove Springs Theatre in Florida, reportedly becoming the youngest motion picture exhibitor in the United States. At age seventeen Johnson went to New York City to study with ...

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Jones, Robert Edmond (12 December 1887–26 November 1954), scene designer and director, was born in Milton, New Hampshire, the son of Fred Jones, a farmer, and Emma Cowell, a piano teacher. He attended public schools in Milton and in 1906 entered Harvard University, from which he graduated cum laude in 1910. While a student in liberal arts he studied music, art, and drama under ...

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Jonson, Raymond (18 July 1891–10 May 1982), painter and theater graphic designer, was born Carl Raymond Johnson near Chariton, Iowa, the son of the Reverend Gustav Johnson and Josephine Abrahamson. Jonson was home-schooled until 1899, when he attended his first school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the family lived for a brief period. In 1902 the family settled in Portland, Oregon. Jonson studied at the Portland Art Museum in 1909 with an instructor who had been a student of Arthur Wesley Dow. Jonson moved to Chicago in 1910 to study art at the Academy of Fine Arts. He later enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago....

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Mielziner, Jo (19 March 1901–15 March 1976), stage designer, was born in Paris, France, the son of Leo Mielziner, a portrait painter, and Ella MacKenna Friend, a fashion and arts journalist and the first female member of the Foreign Press Association. (The last name is pronounced mellzeener.) In 1909 the family moved to the United States, where Mielziner was enrolled in the Ethical Culture School in New York City. He also studied for one year at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. In 1915 he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Except for a brief stint in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War I, he remained at the academy until 1919. That year the academy awarded him a Cresson traveling fellowship, which allowed him to tour Europe, then the center of innovation in theatrical and stage design. His travels brought him into contact with designers Oscar Strand in Vienna, famous for having invented a rotating stage, and Gordon Craig in Italy. Mielziner was awarded a second Cresson in 1922....

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Nikolais, Alwin (25 November 1910–08 May 1993), choreographer, designer, and composer, was born in Southington, Connecticut, the son of John Nikolais and Martha Heinrich. From an early age he studied music. During his high school years he was an organ accompanist for silent films at the Westport Movie House. In 1929 he graduated from Lewis High School in Southington....

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Sharpe, Robert Redington (04 December 1904–14 May 1934), theatrical designer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of George Bertram Sharpe, an advertising executive, and Leslie Redington. When he was eight years old, his mother began taking him to the theater in New York, where the family lived. She also encouraged his interest in drawing. As a child, Sharpe made elaborate model theaters that exhibit the qualities of his mature work: vivid color, decorative line, sensuous texture, and a preference for fantasy....

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Simonson, Lee (26 June 1888–23 January 1967), theater set designer and critic, was born in New York City, the son of Saul Simonson and Augusta Goldenberg. Inspired by the paintings of Maxfield Parrish, Simonson decided on an art career at the age of ten and in high school sold illustrations to ...

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Smith, Oliver (13 February 1918–23 January 1994), set designer for theater, dance, opera, ballet, and film, was born Oliver Lemuel Smith in Waupun, Wisconsin, to Larue F. Smith, a high school principal, and Nina Kincaid Smith. His mother encouraged his early interest in architecture and the performing arts, with frequent trips to museums, the opera, and the theater. When his parents divorced and his mother remarried, Smith moved east, where his stepfather, Ivan Bernkopf, owned a department store in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. While attending high school there, Smith also spent summers at the Chautauqua festival, as well as in other upstate New York towns such as Watkins Glen, where his relatives, including a cousin, the future composer and author ...

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Pavel Tchelitchew Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103672).

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Tchelitchew, Pavel (21 September 1898–31 July 1957), painter and stage designer, was born in Kaluga, Russia, near Moscow, the son of Fedor Chelishchev and Nadezhda Permyakov, progressive aristocrats who implemented Tolstoian ideals in caring for the peasants on their vast estates. He received private tutoring and began drawing at an early age, inspired by the illustrations of Gustave Doré. He attended Moscow University from 1916 until 1918 and studied art at Moscow’s Academy. The family fled to Kiev following the Russian Revolution of 1918. Tchelitchew studied at the Kiev Academy under Alexandra Exter, who applied the principles of Russian constructivism to theatrical design. He designed posters and collaborated on a series of music hall productions with Isaac Rabinovitch, an important Soviet stage designer. Around 1919 Tchelitchew’s style began to evolve away from cubist abstraction, employing curving lines and some representational elements....

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Joseph Urban Photograph by Arnold Genthe, c. 1916. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-1732).