Peter Larkin, Noted Broadway and Hollywood Production Designer, Dies at 93

Peter Larkin  obit - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy Marla Strick

The four-time Tony winner had credits including Mary Martin's 'Peter Pan,' 'No Time for Sergeants,' 'Tootsie' and 'Three Men and a Baby.'

Peter Larkin, the four-time Tony winner who designed the sets for the original Broadway productions of Peter PanThe Teahouse of the August Moon and No Time for Sergeants and for films including Tootsie and Get Shorty, has died. He was 93.

Larkin died Monday after a brief illness at his home in Bridgehampton, New York, his stepson, screenwriter Wesley Strick (Arachnophobia, The Man in the High Castle), told The Hollywood Reporter.

A native of Boston who attended the Deerfield Academy and Yale, Larkin was the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Oliver Waterman Larkin. 

After making his Broadway debut on Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck in 1951, Larkin went to work on Peter Pan, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, starring Mary Martin, when it was in tryouts in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the summer of 1954.

Produced by Edward Lester and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, Peter Pan premiered on Broadway in October of that year. Five months later, his sets and a flying Martin were seen live — and in color — on NBC, attracting a then-record 65 million viewers.

Nominated for 10 Tonys for scenic design during his illustrious career, Larkin won twice in 1954, for his work on Ondine, directed by Alfred Lunt and starring Audrey Hepburn, and for the best play winner Teahouse of the August Moon, starring John Forsythe and David Wayne. 

He won twice more in 1956, for No Time for Sergeants, starring Andy Griffith, and Inherit the Wind, starring Ed Begley. In the former, Larkin cleverly jolted theatergoers when he got all the toilet seats in the latrines to snap to attention for an inspecting officer.

His Broadway credits also included Dial "M" for MurderCompulsionMiss IsobelBlue Denim and Goldilocks in the 1950s; Greenwillow and Arthur Miller's The Crucible in the '60s; TwigsThieves and Bob Fosse’s Dancin' in the '70s; and Doonesbury and The Rink, starring Liza Minnelli, in the '80s.

David Hays, a scenic and lighting designer who is a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame, praised Larkin's work in his 2017 book, Setting the Stage: What We Do, How We Do It, and Why.

Larkin "could take a dreary room, project the key message that the room was dreary, and at the same time give the audience something interesting to see," Hays wrote. "A plumbing pipe piercing a wall at a crazy place? Water damage? Obvious repairs or bad renovations that show a history and decline of the space? The point may be this: Do not make the setting dull, but approach it as a space where you would not want to live."

Larkin arrived in Hollywood in the early 1980s, and his first movie credit came as production designer on Nighthawks (1981), starring Sylvester Stallone. 

In addition to Tootsie (1982) and Get Shorty (1995), he worked with director Hugh Wilson on Guarding Tess (1994) and The First Wives Club (1996), and on other films including Reuben, Reuben (1983), Three Men and a Baby (1987), The Secret of My Success (1987), Mel Brooks' Life Stinks (1991), Night and the City (1992), Barry Sonnenfeld's For Love or Money (1993), Major Payne (1995), Maximum Bob (1998) and Miss Congeniality (2000).

Larkin also designed sets for the Stratford Shakespeare Theater in Connecticut and the New York City Center Ballet.

His wife, painter Racelle Strick, died in 2008. Survivors include his stepdaughter, Ivy Hamlin.