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Production designer Ken Adam, the two-time Oscar winner who created the Pentagon war room for Dr. Strangelove and the inside of Fort Knox for Goldfinger, has died. He was 95.
Adam, who earned his Academy Awards for his work on Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1976) and Nicholas Hytner’s The Madness of King George (1994), died Thursday at his home in London, his biographer, Christopher Frayling, told the BBC.
“He was a brilliant visualizer of worlds we will never be able to visit ourselves — the war room under the Pentagon in Dr. Strangelove, the interior of Fort Knox in Goldfinger — all sorts of interiors which, as members of the public, we are never going to get to see, but he created an image of them that was more real than real itself,” said Frayling.
In a 2003 interview, Adam recalled a conversation he had with director Steven Spielberg about the massive set he designed for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).
“I was in the States giving a lecture to the Directors Guild when Steven Spielberg came up to me,” he recalled. “He said, ‘Ken, that war room set for Strangelove is the best set you ever designed.’ Five minutes later he came back and said, ‘No, it’s the best set that’s ever been designed.’”
In 2003, Adam became the first film production designer to be knighted. “As a production designer, you offer a form of escapism that is more often more exciting that reality,” he once said.
A native of Berlin whose family fled the Nazis for London, Adam also received Oscar nominations for Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Addams Family Values (1993).
In addition to Goldfinger (1964) and The Spy Who Loved Me, he did the production design on the James Bond films Dr. No (1962), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967) — famous for its villain’s lair embedded in a volcano — Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Moonraker (1979), and he worked on another great British spy tale, the Michael Caine-starring The Ipcress File (1965).
His impressive résumé also includes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) — he designed the iconic car — Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), Sleuth (1972), The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), Agnes of God (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Dead Bang (1989), The Freshman (1990), Boys on the Side (1995) and the remake of The Out-of-Towners (1999).
After settling in London, Adam studied architecture and eventually became one of the few Germans to fly missions for England’s Royal Air Force during World War II.
Famed Gone With the Wind production designer William Cameron Menzies hired him to help on Around the World in 80 Days, launching his career.
A stint working for Albert “Cubby” Broccoli on The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) led to the Bond producer tapping him for Dr. No. The film introduced 007’s Aston Martin with gadgets that included an ejector seat, “an idea that came from my days as a pilot,” Adam told the Los Angeles Times last year.
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