Ben Edwards, set, costume, and lighting designer and occasional theatrical producer, died on Friday, February 12, at his home in Manhattan. Edwards, whose career spanned 50 years, was 82 years old.
Following are some tributes:
Robin Wagner (set designer): When I arrived in New York in 1958, the busiest designer in town was Ben Edwards. While I waited months to see most designers, Ben found the time to see me right away. He also gave me a job that lasted almost four years and taught me just about everything I've ever learned about set design. It's hard to describe just how influential he was to so many designers and directors, but throughout his career, he continued to be a force in the theatre and an inspiration to the design community. Ben's work reflected his innate elegance as a man--always impeccable, superbly detailed, and filled with human character. His was a vision that synthesized very accurate observation with evocative poetic imagery. It was an extraordinary vision which, like the man, will be greatly missed.
Rui Rita (lighting designer): Ben Edwards was not a man of the theatre so much as he was theatre personified. Grace and dignity with a ready smile and a disarming Southern charm...it was no surprise to me that leading actresses and actors felt as at home in his creations as they did with its creator. His strong design sense and subdued palette allowed actors to feel supported rather than stifled. I am indebted to this great designer, great theatrical personality, and great man.
Arnold Abramson (owner, Studio South, Boynton Beach, FL; former owner of Nolan Studios, NY): The first time I met Ben was at Triangle Studios, where we were painting The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker . I was new in scene painting then, and never imagined a stage set could be so enchanting. It was refined and tasteful, with a remarkable sense of color. I have never forgotten it.
Triangle Studios became Nolan Scenery Studios; Willy Nolan and Ben were the closest of friends, and I became a friend of Ben's as well later on. I worked with him on many shows: Waltz of the Toreadors, Purlie Victorious, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, and A Touch of the Poet, to name a few. The last was Vita and Virginia.
Ben was always a joy to work with. He was a good friend and I will always miss that reserved, fine Southern gentleman.
Zoe Caldwell (actress): Ben Edwards designed our house, and if I could manage it, every play that I either directed or was in. And he also set a standard for our sons to look up to. So...what do I do now?
Jennifer Tipton (lighting designer): I first worked with Ben on Long Day's Journey Into Night, with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst. The show started at Yale, where I had met Jane Greenwood, Ben's wife. It was one of several productions that were part of a Eugene O'Neill centennial retrospective; I remember thinking how beautiful Ben's set was to light, and how elegant it was. He was a very elegant man, too. I recall dancing with him after a Tony Awards ceremony. He was a divine dancer...I'm afraid I was not, but it was a lovely experience.
Robert Whitehead (producer): Ben was a graceful, modest, high-living (even wild-living), tasteful, courtly gentleman.
He had a marvelous talent, deep and sensitive understanding as a designer for the author's intent and content, and he never strayed from the truth.
Tony Walton (designer/director): Ben Edwards was a truly classy gent. A gentleman in every sense--as must have been said more often of him than of most in our curious profession. He leaves a serious gap in the theatre design community with his passing.
As Playbill's resident caricaturist and graphic doodler in the late 50s, I was able to see everything on Broadway, and thus became thoroughly aware of Ben's work long before meeting him. I have vivid memories of his fine sets, costumes, and lighting for plays such as Dark at the Top of the Stairs, The Ponder Heart, and The Waltz of the Toreadors. And later, his superb designs for a wide range of O'Neill's plays, among so many others.
Not long after my Playbill stint, I was blessed to have Ben's wife-to-be, Jane Greenwood, as costume associate on my first Broadway design outing (a one-night wonder chiefly made bearable by Jane's unquenchable and splendidly individual sense of humor). Through this collaboration and friendship, I came--at last--to know Ben a little and to relish all the results of this marriage of marvelous designers. The bustling and beautiful family home Jane and Ben created was a sane, warm haven in a crazy city. Sane, warm, and elegant, like Ben himself.
His remarkable body of work--all imbued with great taste, vast knowledge, and the striking simplicity that comes from strength and conviction--is a superb legacy. The American theatre is immensely richer for his deeply productive and loving involvement in it. And we are all richer for having been touched by his grace. We'll miss you, Gentle Ben.