Jim Mees, Set Decorator for Three 'Star Trek' Series, Dies at 57

Jim Mees Headshot - P 2013
Courtesy of Michael Smyth

Jim Mees Headshot - P 2013

The Emmy winner also worked on several sitcoms and movies and on live shows for such acts as The Beach Boys and Diana Ross.

Jim Mees, an Emmy Award-winning set decorator who worked on three Star Trek television series and more than a dozen other shows, died March 29 at his home in Selinsgrove, Pa., after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57.

For 17 years, Mees worked on sets for three successive Star Trek series -- The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise -- for which he received five Emmy nominations. In 1990, he shared the award for art direction/set decoration for the Next Generation episode “Sins of the Father.”

A native of New York, Mees relocated to Los Angeles in the 1970s and got his start in TV in 1982 on the All in the Family spinoff Gloria starring Sally Struthers. He also worked on the sitcoms One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Who’s the Boss?, Valerie and Perfect Strangers as well as on the dramas Vanished, Gilmore Girls, Cold Case, Women’s Murder Club, 90210, Private Practice and, most recently, Bones.

Mees also designed live shows for The Beach Boys, Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago and Diana Ross and decorated the sets for the feature films Second Serve (1986), starring Vanessa Redgrave, and Maniac (2012), starring Elijah Wood.

In an interview with StarTrek.com, Mees said working on the three Star Trek series presented a set of set-decorating challenges not found elsewhere.

“Sci-fi is a different bag, but Star Trek in particular is different,” he said. “Unlike most TV shows, where there are draperies, wall covering and a sofa, so much of my set decorating involves designing consoles, building torture chairs and torture beds. We do a lot of torture work!”

“Nothing ever rattled him; he was never nervous, he was always confident,” said Kim Leonard, a set decoration buyer who worked often with Mees.

Mees also did TV commercials, furniture and fabric design, theme park installations, residential interiors, exterior landscapes, runway fashion and multimedia special events.

In the mid-1990s, Mees developed a design curriculum for the new film school at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film in Nashville and became an adjunct instructor in set design and decoration as well as an adviser to the Watkins department of interior design. In 1996, he was installed as a member of the Watkins board of trustees.

His work in Tennessee also included designing and producing the Swan Ball for the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art and the opening ceremonies for the Nashville Symphony Hall and its opening-night gala.

At age 12, Mees became a protege to the iconic textile designer Vera Neumann, helping to create the images that would characterize her scarves, sportswear, tableware and linens. He went on to study at Carnegie Mellon University in its school of drama, where he was selected as a work-study student for George Abbott’s final Broadway production, Music Is, at the Seattle Repertory Theater. He graduated in 1977 with honors.

Mees in 2008 relocated from Los Angeles to Selinsgrove, where he lived with his life partner, Dr. Michael Smyth, and their dogs Connie and Waldo.

“Jim was an inspiration to everyone, handling this deadly disease with his trademark passion, goodwill and humor,” said Smyth. “Typical of Jim, it was him who comforted the rest of us, showing us how to live and die with courage and grace.”

In addition to Smyth, Mees is survived by his mother, Helen, and his siblings Sherene, Kathy and Dan.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Salem Lutheran Church in Selinsgrove, with a reception at the church to follow. Donations may be made in his memory to Lambda Legal, an organization whose mission is to achieve full recognition of the civil rights of LGBT individuals and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.