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Art Directors Guild








Gene Allen







  Heller in Pink Tights (1960)

Sophia Loren in Heller in Pink Tights






Heller in Pink Tights


 My Fair Lady  (1964)




The Art Directors Guild (ADG) Film Society and American Cinematheque will profile the legendary career of Production Designer

Gene Allen

with a screening of



The screening will take place on

Sunday, August 24 at  5:30PM

at the

Aero Theater

located at 

1328 Montana Avenue,
Santa Monica, CA 90403


  John Muto, designer, screenwriter, and AFI Instructor will moderate a discussion following the film with Production Designer Gene Allen.

  HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS, 1960, Paramount, 100 min. Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn head a flamboyant theatrical troupe that travels across the West in 1880, trying desperately to entertain audiences while also evading the bill collectors. Director George Cukor creates an entirely new look for the western, with a colorful, ornate visual design, in this sharp satire. 15 min. presentation prior to the feature of Gene Allen's work, plus discussion following with Gene Allen. View trailer.

Gene Allen was born in Los .Angeles in 1918.  A graduate of a Carthay Center Grammar School, John Burroughs Junior High and Fairfax High  School, he went on to Santa Monica Junior College for only very short time.   His first employment began towards the end of 1936  as  a blue-print  "boy"  in the WB Art Department, third floor, stage five.

 "As long as I could remember I loved the feel of a soft-leaded pencil  applied to a drawing pad. I was the first to volunteer to illustrate a class project; beavers building dams, early railroad trains, whatever, and whenever there was an art class on the school's schedule, I took it.  I was Commissioner of Art in my senior year at Fairfax, involved in the designing and executing  of various sports programs posters.   And so I was delighted to find  that the WB sketch room was adjacent to the blueprint room, giving me the opportunity to meet and mingle with  a group of  talented artists.  At the insistence  of two of the illustrators,   Joe DeMers and Fritiz Willis,  I  began attending   week-nights and Saturday morning  drawing and painting classes at  Chouinard Art Institute.  The  fine-art instructors were very familiar with the work being done at  the studio art departments (many of them were employed by Disney) and they   tailored their methods of teaching so as to prepare the students  for studio employment.

 As a side note, I was amazed to see scattered about the school, in the halls and in the gallery,  the sketches of a full-time student.  They were powerful  black and white compositions, each telling a particular story,. They were as  professional as any of the sketches  that I had seen at Warner Brothers.  They carried the signature, "John DeCuir."

 It wasn't more than a year after I had  been hired  that  my  blue-print boss, Harold Willis,  suggested to the chief-draftsman, Arthur Kooken, that I be promoted  to apprentice sketch artist.  I'm sure that my interests were not his motive in making that  suggestion.  He figured that with my  raise in pay, from $20 to$30 a week,   I would have  more money to lose to him  during our lunch-break snooker games at  Lanes Pool Hall.  He  was right.   The ten dollars ended up in his pocket.  Being allowed to work in the same room with such talented artists was a dream come true.

 As the apprentice in the sketch room, I was taught how to project, how to compose for the movie screen, how to use various mediums for the telling of a particular story, and incidentally, how to make darts for the coffee-break games, how to answer the telephone, and how to keep Harold Cox from punching Harper Goff in the nose.  It was truly an exciting and educational experience and set the stage for my  future in the world of Art Direction and Production design. But it was not all joy and happiness.  The employment procedures of the studio during slow periods were to lay of the most recently hired employees for periods of four to six months. After a prolonged period of no income, I decided to look for  a steady job,   Against my dad's advice (he was a Captain on the Los Angeles Police Department) I decided that the life of a police officer could be exciting, so I took the  necessary civil service tests, oral and physical, passed them. and several months later found myself living at  the LA Police Academy. After graduation I was assigned duty as a radio patrol officer working out of the West LA Police Station.  While I missed the creative atmosphere of the sketch room, I enjoyed seeing bits and pieces of the other side of life. Still interested in a life in the entertainment business I began looking for ideas for movie scripts.  My 4x5 card notations  of  various and sundry characters  encountered  on the streets of  West LA  sit in their box waiting for me to bring them to life, this some sixty years later.

My   career as a cop took a sharp turn  with the start of WW II.  The day after I received my civil service notification that I had successfully passed my six months probation term, I enlisted in the US Navy in the newly  formed "Small Boat Division."  I had visions of me commanding a PT boat in the South Pacific. Wasn't I lucky that this never happened?... I might have become President of the United States.

 Being in the navy had its moments, but that's another long story.  Like most wars, this one ended, and I remember the joy I felt  when   I received  my  honorable discharge certificate.  With it I received a chit for money covering  transportation  from Terminal Island in Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles.  I took the red car and sat in such a way that other passengers could not see the "ruptured duck" sewn on the lapel of my Chief  Petty Officer's uniform.

 I was now  faced with several choices;  I could go back on the police force, return to the entertainment industry as a sketch artist, or take advantage of the GI bill and return to art school.  To properly set the stage, my wife  Iris and I had no savings,  no place to live,  in a city  with "no vacancy" signs filling the landscape,  and no car.  We did have a son,  Jon Patrick, and a strong desire to get on with life.  Perhaps it was because of  my ambition to return to the world of motion picture design that I choose, with Iris' approval, to return to Chouinard  Art Institute as a full time student.

 I guess the old saying that "There is no reason to be Irish if you are not lucky" has some merit.  After a few weeks of attending painting, composition and drawing classes, Mrs. Chouinard put me to work teaching water-color classes, Iris  found an apartment in the Baldwin Hills Village , her  father lent us enough  money to make a down payment on an  automobile, and acting  as my agent, she sold my  water color  paintings of  snow scenes with  red barns  to managers of  the major department stores.

 On a whim ,  I transferred to  the Jepson Art Institute, but continued to teach at Chouinards.   After several  weeks, Herbert Jepson  decided that  if I could teach for Mrs. Chouinard,  I could  teach a class or two for him.  I did , and as time went on,  he asked that I  manage his gallery, and supervise  the  activities of the scholarship students; for this he gave me the title of Assistant Director.   I also taught night school art classes for the Los Angeles Board of Education.

 After three years I left Jepson and became  a GI Bill,  on the job  trainee,  working for  my old sketch artist friends, DeMers and Willis.  During the war they had become rather well known illustrators.

When my government sponsored education  had run its course I returned to the entertainment  industry as a  senior sketch artist.  I  thought I would set the world on fire, but I soon learned that I was average at best when up against the likes of  Ed Graves, Herb Ryman, and  Dale Hennessy.  It was at Fox that I met  the artist whose work I had admired at Chouinards, 
John DeCuir Sr.

Those were happy times, we had added another son to the family, Michael Thomas, and my drawing assignments now included working with such Directors as "live ammunition" Sam Fuller. I learned a great deal about the importance of the story while doing continuity for him on the film, "Fixed Bayonets.,"  But the Industry had not changed, not when it came to "temporary" lay-offs.  During one such forced vacation I was hired as a sketch artist on the  WB production of the Judy Garland, James Mason, George Cukor  film, "A Star is Born."  The Art Director, New York stage designer, Lem Ayres,  took me to a production meeting, I met Cukor, suggested a story change that he liked it, and as someone once said, the rest is history. My  credit on "Star"  went from  sketch artist,  to assistant Art Director,  to Art Director, and  finally , at Jack Warner's insistence, to Production Designer.  The film was a hit and I received an AMPAS  "Best Art Direction" nomination.   As time went on I received two other "Best Art Direction  nominations;  Cukor's, "Les Girls," and, "My Fair Lady."   The third time being charmed, I won  the "Oscar."

 I want to note for the record that my associate, James McGuire,  played a major role in my  success as a Mensies type Production Designer.   He was a marvelous  movie architect,  and his talent allowed me to design the sets and to  establishing the  "look" of a  film  while working  along side of Cukor during  principal photography.

 In 1971 I was urged to accept a temporary assignment as Executive Director of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Art Directors.  I did,  and  some twenty-seven years later was reminded by a much younger  membership  that it was time  for me to retire.  During this period  of promoting the cause of  the art of production design, I was twice elected  President of the Academy  of  Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and  I served several  three-year terms as vice-president of the IATSE.

Perhaps this is the appropriate paragraph for me to  list the   films I designed:

"A Star is Born" 1954, "The Adventures of Hajii Baba"1954 "Bhowani Junction", 1956, "Back from Eternity", 1956, "Les Girls", 1957, "Merry Andrew", 1958, "A Breth of Scandal", 1960, "Let's Make Love", 1960, "Heller in Pink Tights", 1960, "The Chapman Report", 1964 (in addition to designing the production I wrote the screenplay),  " My Fair Lady", 1964, and  "The Cheyenne Social Club", 1970.

 I should add that for many years I was under contract to Cukor's Company, GDC Productions,  working  as a designer, producer, writer,   gopher, etc. on projects that never made it to the screen.  One was the Marilyn Monroe production from which she was fired.  Another was  "The Nine Tiger Man," a tale of low behavior in high places.  We were   going to shoot it in  in India and Great Britan.  I wrote a screenplay; an adaptation  of a novel and a 500 page screenplay by Terrance Rattigan,  hired Alex Trauner to design the sets, and  sent him on a location   scout to  India,  We were ready to beginning  filming when Richard  Zanuck  informed me  that due to  the financial problems created by Fox's production of  Cleopatra,  our  production was canceled.   Another film that never made it to the screen was "Lady L."  Having spent considerable time creating  and  executing interesting sets,  I  was naturally upset when,  on the first day of shooting,  word came down from above that it had been  canceled. There were  several  other projects that met the same fate,  but their names escape me.

 In closing I should mention that I am a  Director member of the Director's Guild, a member of the Writer's Guild, an honorary member of ASC,  and Executive Director Emeritus of the Art Director's Guild (I hate that name). Besides  working for Cukor,  I have designed  films for Michael Curtiz,  Michael Kidd,  Gene Kelly,  and Woody Allen's ex-wife's  father,  John Farrow.   I was an extra in  a  Bill Wellman  production, "Wild Boy's of the Road,"  and I'm  proud to say  that I know Bob Boyle and Henry Bumbstead  personally."

  RSVPs will not be taken for this event.  Tickets purchased by the ADG will be available for ADG members and one guest.  Tickets will be distributed to ADG members at the door on a first come, first served basis.  If you would like to request access to a larger block of tickets, please email your request to Amy Reynolds at


  If you are not an ADG member, tickets are available for purchase at Fandango or by visiting the Aero Theater boxoffice.  General admission is $10.  

  For more information about the American Cinematheque and the Aero Theater go to

or call 323 461 2020.

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