Bending my arm ...

... to give myself (and a friend) a pat on the back. Word comes from Andrew Harris that his book, The Performing Set: The Broadway Designs of William and Jean Eckart is a finalist for the USITT's Golden Pen Award. That's the United States Institute of Theater Technology, and the award is for an outstanding book in the field of production and stage design.

Bill and Jean Eckart were the gold standard for set, costume and lighting design in the heyday of the Broadway musical: They designed Damn Yankees, Once Upon a Matress and Mame, for starters. In the '50s, the exultant image of Gwen Verdon as the devilish Lola in Damn Yankees with her hands on her hips in her black high-cut lingerie was arguably as electrically sexual as the Marilyn Monroe airlift skirt shot, part of the period's taboo-testing and certainly the most famous theater costume of the era. It once towered over Broadway on a billboard, became the icon of the newspaper ads and the subsequent film. Don't take my word: Read Frank Rich's personal erotic encounter with Lola in his memoir, Ghost Light.

Jean Eckart designed that outfit. The Eckarts, who lived in Dallas and taught at Southern Methodist University, approached me about writing the book, I started it, realized I wouldn't be able to complete it and Andy took it over. I'm glad he did; he did a better job than I could in mining the archives and interviewing the survivors, including Carol Burnett. Regardless of all that and of Andy's sensitive analysis of the Eckarts' methods and aesthetics, the book is simply lovely, with some 500 color illustrations, many of them the Eckarts' personal watercolors and sketches. Anyone interested in the Golden Age of Broadway will want to take a look at The Performing Set

The best among the USITT finalists will be chosen and announced in March.

November 1, 2006 9:27 AM |



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