Friday, May 6, 2016


On April 17, 2016, patrons of the Cinematheques Aero Theatre were treated to a night in celebration of Oliver Smith, the acclaimed production designer of amazing Broadway musicals and films including (but not limited to) Guys and Dolls, The Band Wagon, Oklahoma!, and Porgy and Bess

Before the night’s feature film presentation, 1955’s Guys and Dolls, the Art Directors Guild (in conjunction with The Hollywood Reporter and The American Cinematheque) held a panel discussing Smith’s life, as well as his contributions to production design and the Hollywood musical. The three panelists and moderator were all students of Smith at NYU and spoke about him being a national treasure, not just because of his outrageous talent for design, but because of his generosity and his willingness to embrace artists for who they were.

Photo by Giulia Governo
The panel consisted of:
  • Mayne Berke (The Princess Bride)
  • Kalina Ivanov (HBO’s Grey Gardens)
  • Howard Cummings (The Usual Suspects)
  • John Iacovelli (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids)
Several clips from the 1953 musical The Band Wagon were shown, which helped illustrate what made Smith so special. According to Cummings, Smiths use of color and movement was what made his designs so distinct. Berke explained Smiths varied projects, both in theater and film, calling Smith the bridge between Broadway musicals and Hollywood musicals.

Ivanov, the production designer for HBOs Grey Gardens, discussed her personal experience with Smith. When they first met, Ivanov had just fled from Bulgaria with her family and was heavily focused on learning English (as she was told she had only three months to learn it). It was because of this that Smith nicknamed her “the Russian girl.” She also recalled that he was always very supportive of other talented individuals. According to Ivanov, as long as you were talented, he didn’t care what your gender was, whether you had blue hair, or could barely speak English.
The consensus among the panel’s guests was that Smith’s contribution to Hollywood musicals was massive. Though Smith passed away in 1994, it’s clear that he lives on not only through the films he was a part of, but also in the various lives he touched and the proteges he mentored.

The next event in this series is a tribute to William Cameron Menzies, with a screening of The Beloved Rogue, on May 22.