Charles Lisanby

Production Designer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his two-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Charles Lisanby (1924-2013) talks about how, at age ten, he built a scale model of Radio City Music Hall based on an article he read that included plans of the stage. Additionally, he describes how he would listen to radio broadcasts of the operas that originated from the Met and design sets for them. He talks about his studies in art school and about one of his first jobs in New York, painting a mural at the Friar's Club, and how this led to his work in television at CBS (through Friar member Ralph Levy). He recalls joining the television stage designers union and details the test that was required of all applicants. Lisanby discusses his work in the early 1950s for ABC and, soon thereafter, for CBS, where he worked on the game show The $64,000 Challenge and the cultural series Camera Three. He speaks about his continued work at CBS, notably on the nighttime version of The Garry Moore Show, where he came up with several unusual designs. He recounts his association with the NBC variety series The Kraft Music Hal l and lists several shows that featured his signature large block lettering, notably the use of Robert Indiana's "LOVE" on Kraft Music Hall and the word "SMILE" as a backdrop to the Candid Camera set. He also describes his innovative use of lights on the risers of steps as well as the use of neon on television (initially on the Emmy Awards ). He speaks of his later work on the 1974 Benjamin Franklin miniseries (creating an enormous Versailles set) and the 1988 60th anniversary of the Academy Awards that featured the large Oscar statuettes as set pieces (and shares how they were shown to be helicoptered over the Hollywood sign). He details his friendship with artist Andy Warhol: how they met, their trip to Japan together (that led to Warhol's interest in gold leaf), and their estrangement due to Lisanby's disinterest in the "factory" lifestyle. Among other subjects he comments on are: appearing as a child in a TV demonstration by Philo T. Farnsworth, working on the 1951 Broadway revival of "Romeo and Juliet," early CBS color television, creating the set for the television version of Applause (which he based on Lauren Bacall's real apartment), his special Baryshnikov on Broadway, and his work as the principal designer at Radio City Music Hall for many years. B-roll consists of several photos and production sketches from such series as The Kraft Music Hall, Camera Three, and Baryshnikov on Broadway. Karen Herman conducted the interview on March 22, 2007 in Los Angeles, CA.

"The set always has to tell a story. It always has to further what the subject is. It has to help make the show not only entertaining to look at, but tell you something about what the show is about."  

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
Charles Lisanby on his approach to production design
Charles Lisanby on his design work for the miniseries Benjamin Franklin
Charles Lisanby on his work on Baryshnikov on Broadway
Charles Lisanby on a set photo of Baryshnikov and Liza Minnelli taken during Baryshnikov on Broadway
Charles Lisanby on his design work on the 60th Annual Academy Awards and his idea to helicopter a giant Oscar statue over the "Hollywood sign"
Charles Lisanby on how he'd like to be remembered
Charles Lisanby on his advice to aspiring art directors and production designers
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early years and family
On his early interest in art and set design; on his move to New York City and his work painting murals for The Friars Club; and getting his first job in television for CBS
On his work designing sets on the CBS ballet Billy the Kid and his having to join the new union; his first job at ABC
On meeting Philo Farnsworth and seeing television for the first time at the Kentucky State Fair

Chapter 2

On his start in television creating sets for John Daly's news show, designing for The $64,000 Question and Dotto, and working with Cecil Beaton
On his innovative design work for Camera Three
On his work on The Garry Moore Show; working with Neil Simon and Carol Burnett
On his work doing color tests for CBS

Chapter 3

On color tests for CBS
On working on Candid Camera
On his approach to production design
On doing production design for Kraft Music Hall and The Red Skelton Show

Chapter 4

On working with Barbra Streisand
On working on The Red Skelton Show; his design work for the Benjamin Franklin miniseries; his work on magic acts for Paul Henning and David Copperfield; and his design for a Crystal Cathedral Christmas show
On working with Alan King; designing sets for Diana Ross's Diana; designing sets for PBS' Working based on Studs Terkel's book; and designing The Barry Manilow Special (1987)
On designing sets for commercials including Merrill Lynch and Dr. Pepper
On working on Miss America Pageants (1989-1992); his many Emmy nominations and wins; his work on Baryshnikov on Broadway

Chapter 5

On designing the first MTV Music Awards; on his design work on the 60th Annual Academy Awards and his idea to helicopter a giant Oscar statue over the "Hollywood sign"
On his design work for Disney live stage shows; his work at the Metropolitan Opera; and his own writing 
On his close friendship with Andy Warhol
On his retirement

Chapter 6

On his design style
On his advice to aspiring art directors and how he'd like to be remembered 
On photos and sketches of some of his design work
Shows

$64,000 Question

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for the $64,000 Question

Academy Awards, The

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Charles Lisanby on his design work on the 60th Annual Academy Awards and his idea to helicopter a giant Oscar statue over the "Hollywood sign"

American Playhouse: "Working"

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Charles Lisanby on art directing the PBS musical Working, based on Studs Terkel's book

Barry Manilow Specials

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Charles Lisanby on art directing The Barry Manilow Special (1987)

Baryshnikov on Broadway

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Charles Lisanby on his multiple Emmy wins for production design
Charles Lisanby on a set photo of Baryshnikov and Liza Minnelli taken during Baryshnikov on Broadway

Benjamin Franklin

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Charles Lisanby on designing the sets for the miniseries Benjamin Franklin

Camera Three

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for Camera Three
Charles Lisanby on a photo of one of the sets he designed for a drama presented on Camera Three

Candid Camera

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for Candid Camera

Cos

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Charles Lisanby briefly on working with Bill Cosby on Cos

Diana

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Charles Lisanby on art directing Diana Ross' 1981 concert film

Dotto

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for Dotto

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Charles Lisanby on his multiple Emmy wins for production design

Garry Moore Show, The

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for The Garry Moore Show
Charles Lisanby on designing a set for Barbra Streisand on The Garry Moore Show

Hour of Power

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for Hour of Power Christmas shows

John Charles Daly and the News

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Charles Lisanby on designing an early news set

Kraft Music Hall, The

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Charles Lisanby on moving to NBC to work on The Kraft Music Hall
Charles Lisanby on designing sets on The Kraft Music Hall
Charles Lisanby on a set photo from The Kraft Music Hall featuring Johnny Cash
Charles Lisanby on a set photo from The Kraft Music Hall featuring his trademark use of small lights
Charles Lisanby on a photo of the impromptu winter wonderland set created for The Kraft Music Hall

MTV Video Music Awards

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Charles Lisanby on designing the first MTV Music Awards show

Miss America Pageant

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Charles Lisanby on working on set design for Miss America Pageants (1989-1992)

Red Skelton Show, The

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Charles Lisanby on doing production design for The Red Skelton Show
Art Director Charles Lisanby briefly on working on The Red Skelton Show
Topics

Emmy Awards

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Charles Lisanby on his multiple Emmy wins for production design

Pop Culture

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Charles Lisanby on his close friendship with Andy Warhol

Quiz Show Scandals

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for Dotto

Technological Innovation

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Charles Lisanby on designing color tests for CBS
Art Director Charles Lisanby on CBS' early experimentation with color
Professions

Art Director/Set Decorator

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Charles Lisanby on the differences between an art director and a production designer
Charles Lisanby on his advice to aspiring art directors and production designers

Production Designer

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Charles Lisanby on his approach to production design
Charles Lisanby on his advice to aspiring art directors and production designers
Genres

Awards Shows

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Charles Lisanby on his design work on the 60th Annual Academy Awards and his idea to helicopter a giant Oscar statue over the "Hollywood sign"

Commercials

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Charles Lisanby on some of the commercials he art directed including: Merrill Lynch and Dr. Pepper

Game Shows

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for the $64,000 Question

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets on The Kraft Music Hall
People

Lauren Bacall

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Charles Lisanby on designing the stage production of Applause

Bob Banner

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Charles Lisanby on working with Barbra Streisand

Mikhail Baryshnikov

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Charles Lisanby on a set photo of Baryshnikov and Liza Minnelli taken during Baryshnikov on Broadway

Cecil Beaton

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Charles Lisanby on Cecil Beaton
Charles Lisanby on working on a project for the Met

Carol Burnett

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Charles Lisanby on recommending Carol Burnett for The Garry Moore Show

Johnny Cash

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Charles Lisanby on a set photo from The Kraft Music Hall featuring Johnny Cash

David Copperfield

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for magic acts

Bill Cosby

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Charles Lisanby briefly on working with Bill Cosby on Cos

Philo T. Farnsworth

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Charles Lisanby on meeting Philo Farnsworth at an early television demonstration at a Kentucky State Fair

Lewis Freedman

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Charles Lisanby on designing the sets for the miniseries Benjamin Franklin

Allen Funt

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for Candid Camera

Dwight Hemion

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets on The Kraft Music Hall

Doug Henning

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for magic acts

Alan King

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Charles Lisanby on his friendship with Alan King and their work on a failed pilot for Ethel Merman

Madonna

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Charles Lisanby on designing the first MTV Music Awards show

Barry Manilow

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Charles Lisanby on art directing The Barry Manilow Special (1987)

Ethel Merman

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Charles Lisanby on his friendship with Alan King and their work on a failed pilot for Ethel Merman

Marilyn Monroe

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Charles Lisanby on Cecil Beaton

Garry Moore

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for The Garry Moore Show

Diana Ross

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Charles Lisanby on art directing Diana Ross' 1981 concert film

Robert Schuller

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for Hour of Power Christmas shows

Nancy Sinatra

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Charles Lisanby on a set he designed for Nancy Sinatra using his trademark block letter style

Red Skelton

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Charles Lisanby on doing production design for The Red Skelton Show

Gary Smith

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets on The Kraft Music Hall

Barbra Streisand

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Charles Lisanby on designing sets for Barbra Streisand 

Studs Terkel

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Charles Lisanby on art directing the PBS musical Working, based on Studs Terkel's book

Andy Warhol

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Charles Lisanby on his close friendship with Andy Warhol

Ken Welch

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Charles Lisanby on working with Barbra Streisand

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