Terence Marsh, Two-Time Oscar-Winning Art Director, Dies at 86

Terence Marsh - Getty - H 2018
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

His body of work covered the David Lean epics 'Lawrence of Arabia' and 'Doctor Zhivago' and Frank Darabont's 'Shawshank Redemption' and 'Green Mile.'

Terence Marsh, the prolific art director and production designer who received Academy Awards for his work on David Lean's Doctor Zhivago and Carol Reed's Oliver!, has died. He was 86.

The London native died Tuesday at his Pacific Palisades home after a four-year battle with cancer, his wife, former talent agent Sandra Marsh, announced.

Marsh's meticulous design skills are prominent in Sydney Pollack's Absence of Malice (1981), Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct (1992), Richard Attenborough's A Bridge Too Far (1977) and the Frank Darabont dramas The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), for which he designed the electric chair.

To research the John McTiernan thriller The Hunt for Red October (1990), Marsh rode out in a Trident-class nuclear submarine, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Before then, his only knowledge of submarine interiors was what he saw in World War II movies growing up. He then worked on the 1994 follow-up, Clear and Present Danger.

Marsh's first Oscar triumph, which he shared with mentor John Box and Dario Simoni, was for Lean's sweeping epic Doctor Zhivago (1965). Shot in Spain, the film took two years to complete.

Marsh's role included scouting locations for the construction of upper- and lower-class neighborhoods. He said he happened upon a vacant parcel of land near paved roads that was earmarked for housing construction. The developer "had put the roads in but hadn't yet gotten around to building the homes. We did a deal," Marsh told the Los Angeles Times in 2012.

Marsh's second Oscar, for Oliver! (1968), was shared with Box, Vernon Dixon and Ken Muggleston. That film was shot at Shepperton Studios in England across six soundstages and a backlot. The London streets set was built by some 350 men and included 10,000 cobblestone slabs.

In 1975, Marsh relocated from the U.K to Los Angeles, where he became tennis buddies with Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. He designed Wilder's directorial debut, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975), which Wilder wrote and starred in as well. It followed the story of Sigerson Holmes, the forgotten brother of the master detective.

"When I first sat down to read the script, I laughed out loud — and I knew it was going to be fun," Marsh recalled in an interview with The Baker Street Journal. He also co-wrote Wilder's final directorial effort, Haunted Honeymoon (1986).

Marsh would collaborate with Reiner on Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (1989) and with Brooks on Spaceballs (1987), in which he had a cameo as the drummer providing an on-set majestic fanfare to the ship's transformation into the Mega Maid.

Marsh began his career as a draftsman at Rank Studios, where he cut his teeth on the 1957 classic The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe.

Box, a noted art designer, hired Marsh to work for two years on Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) as assistant art director. "Lawrence is what got me going," Marsh said in 2012. "It got me to be friends with John, and then John made me his art director on his very next film, Of Human Bondage."

Along with his two Oscar wins, Marsh received two other nominations, for Ronald Neame's Scrooge (1970) and for Charles Jarrott's Mary, Queen of Scots (1971).

Marsh also co-produced, co-wrote and designed Richard Lester's Finders Keepers (1984), which starred a young Jim Carrey.

Marsh received the Art Directors Guild's lifetime achievement award in 2010.

In addition to Sandra, his wife of 42 years, he is survived by his daughters, Georgina, Rebecca and Jocelyn. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Braille Institute.