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John M. Dwyer, the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning set decorator who worked on Jaws, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Coal Miner’s Daughter, not to mention two series and six films in the Star Trek universe, has died. He was 83.
Dwyer died Sept. 15 of complications from Parkinson’s disease at a hospital in Encinitas, California, his wife of 29 years, Anita, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Dwyer won his Emmy in 1981 for his set decorations for The Gangster Chronicles after being nominated two years earlier for his work on another acclaimed NBC miniseries, Centennial.
Dwyer received his Academy Award nom (shared with John W. Corso) for Michael Apted’s Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), the Loretta Lynn biopic that starred Sissy Spacek, and his amazing résumé also included Two-Minute Warning (1976), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Rocky V (1989), Black Rain (1989), Patriot Games (1992), Larger Than Life (1996), Alien: Resurrection (1997) and Hollow Man (2000).
As a set dresser, he set up movies including The Eiger Sanction (1975), 9½ Weeks (1986) and Angel Heart (1987).
The 6-foot-6 Dwyer joined the original Star Trek for its second season in 1967, and the first episode on which he was employed was the legendary “The Trouble With Tribbles,” where he got creative using puffy blobs of fur.
He went on to dress up sets for 38 installments of the NBC series, earning an Emmy nomination (shared with Walter M. Jefferies) in 1969 for their art direction and scenic design on the episode “All Our Yesterdays.”
“In the original series we had to be really inventive, because we were dealing with stuff that nobody knew anything about,” he said in “Designing the Final Frontier,” a featurette for a Star Trek DVD. “There was no space shows, and we didn’t have any money, so you had to scrounge; in effect, scrounge everything that you got.”
Dwyer once noted that his budget was usually $500 per show, so he would squirrel away money from one episode to another when he could and picked through trash to use items like packing materials and plastic coffee lids for the Enterprise and alien environments.
“I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but I keep in touch with materials that are going around,” he said in 2002. “On the original series, we were the first ones to use refractive Mylar, because it had just come out … and I went crazy with the stuff. In those days, nobody cared what you put on the set, so long as there was something that looked right. I’d take a piece of Masonite and cover it with some adhesive Mylar, put a two-by-four on the backside of it and hang it on a wall.”
Dwyer returned to the franchise for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), directed by Leonard Nimoy, then was hired as set decorator, teaming with production designer Herman Zimmerman, for the syndicated Star Trek: The Next Generation the following year.
He stayed with that show for just a season but continued his Star Trek duty with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek: Generations (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002).
A native of Los Angeles whose father and grandfather worked in Hollywood, Dwyer attended Marshall High School. He declined a UCLA basketball scholarship to enlist in the U.S. Navy and spent time aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany during the Korean War.
After the service, Dwyer attended the Chouinard Art Institute in L.A. and began a stint at Universal Studios, where he often worked on several shows at the same time.
He got his first credits as a set decorator in 1966 for McHale’s Navy and Tammy and went on to work on such TV shows as The Virginian, Mr. Terrific, Then Came Bronson, The Young Lawyers, Kojak, Ellery Queen and Night Gallery.
Dwyer retired in 2002 to Encinitas after 45 years in the business.
Survivors also include his son, Matthew.
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