"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."
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.