Douglas Leigh, the man responsible for creating the glittery, technologically-ambitious, ad-splashed look of the modern Times Square, died Dec. 14 in Manhattan.
Mr. Leigh, who was 92, designed and placed some of the most indelible urban pop-culture images of the century in New York City's so-called crossroads of the world, which is also the unofficial doorway to the Broadway theatre district.
The Camel cigarette man puffing smoke rings. The famous waterfall (made of water and antifreeze) on the Bond apparel sign. The steaming A&P coffee cup. The 120-foot Pepsi waterfall, on the same site as the Bond sign. All of these, known as "spectaculars" in the outdoor sign business, were Mr. Leigh's creations.
"He wasn't an engineer, he was a dreamer and a conceiver: He was very good at putting together a team that could execute his ideas," said Ed Hayman, the billboard historian who co-authored "Signs and Wonders" (Doubleday), a document of the so-called "spectacular marketing of America."
"He really was very similar to the old Broadway producers," Hayman told Playbill On-Line. "He was a great salesman and was immensely popular with the press." Mr. Leigh's principal collaborators were Jacob Starr, of Artkraft Strauss Sign Corp., and engineer Fred Kerwer.
The Camel man puffed out steam rings for 26 years and was reproduced around the country. Steam for such signs was diverted from the building's heating system; on a day without wind, the "smoke" rings drifted over the traffic of Times Square.
According to The New York Times, he once owned One Times Square, where the electric ball is dropped every Dec. 31 to signify the new year. In the 1960s, he pulled the facade off the building and replaced it with thousands of feet of space for billboards.
The ambitious, famous Bond sign on Broadway between 44th and 45th street included an electric news zipper, a waterfall that hotel guests across the street could gawk at (honeymooners had a little taste of Niagara Falls outside their windows) and male and female nudes flanking the sign. At night, lighting effects made the figures appear clothed. The sign lasted six years and appeared over what would later be the same building where the Roundabout Theatre made a home.
Mr. Leigh, an Alabama native, was also an urban lighting designer who lighted the Empire State Building, Citicorp, the Waldorf-Astoria, the Crown Building and the Helmsley Building.
-- By Kenneth Jones