Famed TV Art Director Charles Lisanby Dies at 89

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Charles Lisanby

The Hall of Famer and three-time Emmy Award winner worked on "The Garry Moore Show," many specials, the Oscars and MTV's Video Music Awards.

Charles Lisanby, a three-time Emmy Award winner and the only art director enshrined in the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame, has died. He was 89.

Lisanby, who helped pioneer color television scenic design, died Aug. 23 at his Los Angeles home of complications following a fall, publicist Leonard Morpurgo said.

A great friend of famed pop artist Andy Warhol, Lisanby designed The Garry Moore Show, the legendary comedy show that introduced Carol Burnett to TV audiences, and designed numerous variety shows for stars such as Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Mitzi Gaynor, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton.

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He also served as art director for telecasts of the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards and, in 1984, the first MTV Video Music Awards.

Lisanby designed the set for Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid ballet, a CBS daytime production in 1948. He got the job when he painted a mural at the Friar's Club in New York and was noticed by CBS executive Ralph Levy, a member of the club.

He won Primetime Emmys in 1988 for Barry Manilow: Big Fun on Swing Street (with a nomination the same year for the 60th annual Academy Awards telecast); in 1980 for the special Baryshnikov on Broadway; and in 1975 for the miniseries Benjamin Franklin

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In January 2010, Lisanby was inducted into the 19th annual Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame alongside Don Pardo, the Smothers Brothers, Bob Stewart and Gene Roddenberry.

Lisanby described how he worked in a 2010 interview on the eve of his Hall of Fame moment.

“You have to find out what the show is about -- who’s starring, what is the script or sketches,” he explained. “You really have to service the show, figure out what it needs to say, what it has to say. People have to look at something, and if what they’re looking at bores them, they’re not going to watch.”

Lisanby also worked on such Broadway productions as 1951's Romeo and Juliet, starring Olivia de Havilland, and a Tony Award–winning 1956 production of My Fair Lady, starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews.

He was an ADG (IATSE Local 800) member for more than 40 years, and before that a member of United Scenic Artists. In 2010, he donated his life's work to James Madison University.

Survivors include longtime partner Richard Bostard and sister-in-law Gladys. A funeral service will be held Sunday, Aug. 31, in his hometown of Princeton, KY.