Bill DeCinces, Who Spent a Lifetime at Universal Studios, Dies at 84

He served as an art director and top backlot executive during a 53-year career with the company.

Bill DeCinces, who spent more than a half-century at Universal Studios, going from a ditch digger to head of the art department to running operations at the company’s famed backlot, died Feb. 10 in Tarzana, Calif., from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 84.

DeCinces also headed the team that designed the film and TV production complex at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando that opened in 1988.

“Bill DeCinces had no peers when it came to studio backlot operations," Dan Slusser, then-GM and president of the operations group, said when DeCinces retired in 1999 to conclude his 53-year career with Universal.

In 1944 at age 16, the Los Angeles native started at the studio, where his father worked in Universal’s still lab. He worked as a laborer digging ditches, moved to the grip department, then to set lighting and later to the art department, rising to department head in the mid-1960s.

As an art director, he worked on Universal Television’s Golden Globe-winning 1972 telefilm That Certain Summer, starring Hal Holbrook and Martin Sheen, and more than 300 episodes of such series as Shotgun Slade, Whispering Smith, M Squad, Laredo, Ironside, Laramie, The Virginian, Wagon Train, McHale’s Navy and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

His film work at Universal included The Sword of Ali Baba (1965), The Plainsman (1966), Let’s Kill Uncle, Before Uncle Kills Us (1966) and The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), starring Don Knotts.

In the mid-’70s, DeCinces became manager of backlot operations and later vp of the studio’s operation group. He was on the scene when fires ravaged the Universal backlot in 1987 and 1990, causing millions of dollars in damage.

DeCinces was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. In the ’60s, he obtained his license as an architect (without a degree) and helped build more than 90 houses in the L.A. area, many for Hollywood celebrities.

Survivors include his daughter Mary and son Richard; grandchildren Michelle, Michael and Jon; and great-grandchildren Morgan and Ryan. For the past few years, he was comforted by his dear friend, Lora Salmon. His wife of 54 years, Lynn, died in 2004.

A memorial service is being planned. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.