American Scenic Designer Ben Edwards Dead at 82

News   American Scenic Designer Ben Edwards Dead at 82
Ben Edwards, one of the major post-World War II American scenic designers, died Feb. 12 in his Manhattan home, the New York Times reported. He was 82.

Ben Edwards, one of the major post-World War II American scenic designers, died Feb. 12 in his Manhattan home, the New York Times reported. He was 82.

His wife, costume designer Jane Greenwood, told the Times the cause of the death was pneumonia associated with lymphoma.

Mr. Edwards was a producer as well as a scenic, costume and lighting designer who got his start in the New York theatre designing in the late Depression years for the Federal Theatre on Broadway. The Alabama native studied acting but his gift for the visual steered him to a career in designing.

"He had an extremely rare eye," costume designer Ann Roth, a longtime friend and colleague, told Playbill On-Line Feb. 16. "His research was unbelievable..."

Mr. Edwards worked on a number of plays with Roth, including The Disenchanted and Foxy. Roth said that Mr. Edwards, like all quality designers, looked beyond the obvious in design elements both on stage and in everyday life. She told of a canoe paddle Mr. Edwards retrieved from his native bayou country and how he marveled at the folk art inscribed on it. "He had a thirst or a hunger for something so fine," said Roth from her home in Pennsylvania. "It ravished him. He was on an endless search."

After serving in World War II, Mr. Edwards went on to design for dozens of Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional productions, including Medea with Judith Anderson (1947) and Zoe Caldwell (1982), A Few Good Men, West Side Waltz, Time of the Cuckoo, The Ponder Heart, Purlie Victorious, More Stately Mansions, The Aspern Papers, Purlie, Death of a Salesman (with Dustin Hoffman), The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey Into Night (both with Jason Robards), A Thousand Clowns and Off-Broadway's Vita and Virginia. His work was also seen at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.

His producing credits, according to the Times, included Hugh Wheeler's Big Fish, Little Fish and the Edward Albee rewrite of Ballad of the Sad Cafe.

His most recent biography in Playbill, in 1996, listed some of the performers or directors he's worked with: Ethel Barrymore, Harold Clurman, Jane Cowl, Robert Whitehead, Tallulah Bankhead, Dame Wendy Hiller, Dame Judith Anderson, Elia Kazan, Zoe Caldwell, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Rex Harrison, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Michael Redgrave, Helen Hayes, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Fay Wray, Harpo Marx, Buster Keaton, Ingrid Bergman, Lucille Ball, Jason Robards, Mae West, Geraldine Page, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Woody Allen, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Whoopi Goldberg, Jack Lemmon, Shirley Booth, John Huston, Margaret Sullivan, Richard Burton, Leland Hayward, Tony Perkins, Paul Newman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Lewis Allen, William Inge and Paul Robeson.

Mr. Edwards won a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 1998. He is survived by Greenwood, two daughters, Sarah and Katharine, and a granddaughter.

-- By Kenneth Jones

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