Charles Lisanby

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Charles Lisanby
Born Charles Alvin Lisanby
(1924-01-22)January 22, 1924
Princeton, Kentucky, United States
Died August 23, 2013(2013-08-23) (aged 89)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Occupation Production Designer and Set Director
Years active 1948–1998

Charles Alvin Lisanby (January 22, 1924 – August 23, 2013) was an American Production Designer who helped define scenic design in early color television.[1] During his career, he was nominated for sixteen Emmys and won three. In January 2010, Charles was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame at the nineteenth annual ceremony alongside Don Pardo, the Smothers Brothers, Bob Stewart, and Gene Roddenberry. Aside from his success in the entertainment industry, Charles is known for his close friendship with the artist Andy Warhol, which lasted for about ten years beginning in 1955.


Charles was born to Rebecca Hollingsworth Lisanby and Charles Alvin Lisanby, Sr. in Princeton, Kentucky.[2] He graduated high school in 1940 at age 16, and was drafted the following year after the entry of the United States into World War II. Receiving an early discharge due to meningitis, Charles ignored his father's wish to become a doctor and instead went to New York to attend art school.

His brother was Rear Admiral James Lisanby of the United States Navy.[2]

Influences in early color television[edit]

Charles Lisanby is currently the first and only Production Designer ever inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. As well as contributing spectacular scenes and set piece design for countless television shows and movies, Charles helped pioneer several key recognizable features of television. As color television developed, experimentation with colorful scenes and costumes was needed and developed. One key feature Charles directly mastered was the use of neon lighting for shows. Early experiments with neon lights created a buzzing sound through the microphone system which was severe enough it could not be used. After working with engineers, lighting, and sound experts Charles was able to incorporate neon lights for the first time in television history. Charles also invented lighted steps as a feature of shows, and was the first to implement large block letters which actors could sit on as a part of the set.

As well as influencing scenic design as it is known today, Charles designed the first ever mini-series on television in 1973–1974 with his Emmy-winning Ben Franklin mini-series. He took scenic design to new heights with monumental set pieces such as his Parisian street set which created buzz across Hollywood and within the profession. Throughout his nearly 50-year career, Lisanby became arguably the most influential scenic designer.


Charles' first professional commission was given to him in 1947 when the Friars Club in New York City commissioned him to paint a mural in the dining room of their headquarters. Coincidentally Ralph Levy, who at the time worked for CBS, saw Charles' work and asked him to design the experimental made-for-television ballet "Billy the Kid". His work gained the attention of the Theatrical Stage Designers Union who demanded he cease working for CBS until he took a test to gain entrance into the Union. Charles passed the test with the highest marks and met the influential stage designer Oliver Messel who offered him a job as his assistant working on the Broadway show Romeo and Juliet starring Olivia de Haviland in 1951.

After Romeo and Juliet, Charles continued to work in the same scene shop for a year until he was offered a job by Jim McNaughton at ABC. In 1954 CBS offered him a job for twice the salary which he immediately took and worked on The Jane Froman Show. Charles' then worked for CBS for a number of years on such shows as the infamous $64,000 Question and Camera Three where he met Lewis Freedman, the future head of PBS and director of the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 1958 Charles was asked to work with Ralph Levy and Bob Banner on the Gary Moore Show where he worked for six years on 234 shows and helped give Carol Burnett her television debut. After the series ended Charles went on to work on the Kraft Music Hall for Smith/Hemion; and in 1973 and 1974 he designed the Ben Franklin miniseries and received his first Emmy. Starting in 1979 he began annually working on Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular which he continued designing until 1996.

Working on everything from made-for-television movies, musicals, ballets and Broadway shows, Lisanby influenced nearly every aspect of scenic design in all mediums which he worked.

Friendship with Andy Warhol[edit]

Charles met Andy Warhol at a party thrown by Bill Cecil in the mid-1950s in New York. At the party Andy was sitting alone in the corner not socializing with anyone so Charles approached him to help him meet people. The two began conversing and ended up leaving the party at the same time. That particular night it was raining so Charles and Andy stood under the awning of a taxidermy shop where Charles pointed out that he liked a stuffed peacock in the window. The next day the peacock was delivered to Charles' door and their great friendship began.

The two became nearly inseparable and met every Sunday to do figure drawings and studies which influence both artists greatly as they matured in their respective careers. Warhol created an entire gallery exhibit (DETAILS) of the drawings he had done of Charles. Although Charles' work had him travelling between the east and west coasts he and Andy kept in contact with regular phone calls.

In 1956 Charles and Andy took a month-long trip around the world which greatly influenced both of their work and directly inspired Warhol's Golden Shoes. Charles came up with the title to Warhol's book 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy and both artists frequently exchanged art and ideas into the early 1960s.

As Warhol began his famous pop-art movement, the two began to separate in their friendship as Charles did not wish to be a part of it. Lisanby was in favor of much more realistic art and he decided that Warhol's famous The Factory was not his scene. Towards the end of the period where they were friends, Warhol bought a house and tried to get Charles to move in with him, and Andy even tried to give Charles one of his famous Marilyn Monroe prints that he made specifically for him. Lisanby refused the Marilyn even though Warhol famously said, "Wrap it up in brown paper. Put it in the back of a closet. One day it'll be worth a million dollars."

As Warhol gained more fame, he recognized the Pop Art movement that he was creating and the incredible fame he would achieve. Andy asked Charles to join him in the movement and become a famous Pop artist as well, but Charles declined due to the work he was doing in his career in television.

The Charles Lisanby Collection[edit]

Charles donated his life's work to James Madison University in 2010. Two years later the new James and Gladys Kemp Lisanby Museum in Festival Conference and Student Center held an exhibit to highlight Lisanby's most important contributions to the arts of television and scenic design, as well as introduce his relationship with Andy Warhol. Mentor to an Icon: A Charles Lisanby and Andy Warhol Exhibit was on view from January 23, 2012 – March 2, 2012. The exhibit was accompanied by a free iPad app that allowed visitors to interact with and learn more about the individual works exhibited as well as view interviews with and videos of and about Lisanby.


Linasby died on August 23, 2013 at his Los Angeles, California home of complication following a fall at the age of 89.[1]

Career timeline[edit]

Year Show Notes
1948 Billy the Kid (Ballet) First ballet on television, broadcast in New York City
1951 Romeo and Juliet Broadway show, starring Olivia de Havilland; Assisted Oliver Messel
1951–1952 Can-Can Painted scenery
1952 America's Town Meeting Television show anchored by John Daly
1952 Paul Whiteman's Goodyear Revue
1953 The Jane Froman Show Met and worked with Irving Mansfield and Byron Paul
1955 $64,000 Question Created and designed the contestant's isolation booths
1956 Camera Three Produced by Robert Herridge and directed by Lewis Freedman
1957 Hotel Paradiso Broadway musical
1957 Little Glass Clock and My Fair Lady Broadway musicals; Assisted Cecil Beaton, lighting credit
1958 Dotto Designed the set but had no part in the scandal
1958–1964 The Garry Moore Show Worked on 234 shows over six years with Ralph Levy and Bob Banner
1962 Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall Show featuring Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, a lifelong friend of Charles
1963 Calamity Jane Featured Carol Burnett
1964 Once Upon a Mattress
1966–1967 Animal Keepers
1972 Applause Musical starring Lauren Bacall
1972 Trouble with People Written by Neil Simon
1973–1974 Benjamin Franklin (TV Miniseries) Won an Emmy
1976–1977 Paul Lynde Specials Halloween and Christmas Specials
1977 The Court Marshal of George Armstrong Custer
1978 20th Grammy Awards Designed the awards show
1979 Alan King Specials Total of 12 shows
1979–1996 Radio City Music Hall's Annual Christmas Spectacular
1979 You Can't Take it With You
1980 Baryshnikov on Broadway Won an Emmy
1980 Bob Hope's Wine, Women and Song
1980 Folies Bergere (Tropicana, Las Vegas) Currently playing open ended
1980 The Glory of Christmas Performed at Crystal Cathedral through 2006
1981 Diana Diana Ross special
1981 Report to Murphy starring Michael Keaton, pilot and series
1982 Working PBS' American Playhouse
1982 Night of 100 Stars Alexander Kohen/ABC
1982 Weekend PBS' American Playhouse
1982 ENCORE Radio City's 50th Anniversary Show
1982 Peter Allen at the Pantages, LA
1982 Glory of Easter Crystal Cathedral through 2002
1983 Walt Disney's Radio City Summer Show
1983 Dr. Pepper commercials (7)
1983 Merrill Lynch (the original "bull") commercials (3)
1984 French Revue for the Bahamas Princess Through 1995
1984 Pilot for Cindy – (Williams) NBC
1984 Multiple Irish Spring commercials
1985 STARZ Conrad International Hotel, Australia. Currently running open-ended
1985 Radio City HBO Christmas Special
1985 MTV Awards (2)
1987 Panasonic VCR (hands) commercials
1987 Salute to American Imagination – Ford 75th Anniversary Show
1987 Barry Manilow Special CBS/Steve Binder; Won an Emmy
1988 David Letterman's 5th Anniversary Special NBC
1988 60th Anniversary Academy Awards Show
1989 Miss America Pageant 1 of 4
1989 Hot Prospects TV half-hour pilot – starring George Clooney
1990 Super Bowl Halftime Show
1990 I'm Home Pilot MGM/UA
1990 Class of the 20th Century 12 specials – A&E hosted by Richard Dreyfuss
1990 65th Grand Ole Opry Special
1992/1993 Tropworld, Atlantic City Extravaganza, 60th Anniversary Radio City Touring Show 77 weeks and remounted at Las Vegas Flamingo Hilton in 1995
1994 Disney Greatest Hits on Ice CBS
1996 Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" At the Superdome in New Orleans – live and TV
1998 Reflections on Ice Starring Michelle Kwan, based upon Mulan – ABC/Disney


  1. ^ a b "Charles Lisanby, Famed TV Art Director, Dies at 89". The Hollywood Reporter. 2013-08-29. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  2. ^ a b "Deaths LISANBY, CHARLES ALVIN JR.". New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2017. 

External links[edit]