Heller in Pink Tights
Sophia Loren in Heller in Pink Tights
The Art Directors Guild (ADG) Film Society and American Cinematheque will
profile the legendary career of Production Designer
with a screening of
HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS (1960).
The screening will take place on
Sunday, August 24 at 5:30PM
1328 Montana Avenue,
Santa Monica, CA 90403
John Muto, designer, screenwriter,
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
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
"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
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
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
I was now faced with several
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 www.americancinematheque.com/
or call 323 461 2020.