Set designer and occasional theatrical producer Ben Edwards died on Friday, February 12, at his home in Manhattan. Edwards, who was 82 years old, died of pneumonia associated with lymphoma.
Edwards' career spanned 50 years; in the early days of his career, he would often design the sets, costumes, and lighting for a production. More recently, though, he concentrated on scenic design, often working with his wife, costume designer Jane Greenwood, and lighting designers Jennifer Tipton and the late Thomas Skelton, among others.
Born in Union Springs, AL, in 1916, Edwards attended the Feagin School of Dramatic Arts in New York, where he was encouraged to parlay his drawing talent into the scenic design field. In 1936, he did a summer stint at the Barter Theatre in Virginia, designing productions such as Mrs. Moonlight and Smilin' Through. In 1937, he moved to a Federal Theatre Project venue in Roslyn, Long Island, and designed productions such as Coriolanus, Diff'rent, and Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines. Five of the productions he worked on were brought to Broadway's Maxine Elliott Theatre in 1938 by producer/director Charles Hopkins.
In 1940, Edwards designed Another Sun on Broadway. After a stint in the Army Air Corps during WWII, he returned to Broadway in 1947, designing the first of two Robert Whitehead productions of Medea, starring Judith Anderson (the second, which Edwards also designed, premiered in 1982 and featured Zoe Caldwell in the title role). Medea relaunched his design career on Broadway, beginning a long and prolific run. Often, the designer would work on two productions a year; he also designed extensively for Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre and the American Shakespeare Festival.
A selected list of Broadway, Off Broadway, and regional productions Edwards worked on include: Diamond Lil (1948); The Royal Family (1951); Taming of the Shrew (1951); The Time of the Cuckoo (1952); The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1953); The Ponder Heart (1956); The Waltz of the Toreadors (1957); The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (directed by Elia Kazan, 1957); A Touch of the Poet (1958); Heartbreak House (1959); God and Kate Murphy (1959); A Shot in the Dark (1961); Midgie Purvis (starring Tallulah Bankhead, 1961); Big Fish, Little Fish (which he also co-produced, 1961); The Aspern Papers (Michael Redgrave's adaptation, 1962); The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (Edwards was a co-producer, 1963); Hamlet (with Richard Burton, directed by John Gielgud, 1964); More Stately Mansions (1967); The Mother Lover (1969); Purlie (1972); A Moon for the Misbegotten (1973); Finishing Touches (1973); A Matter of Gravity (1976); A Touch of the Poet (1977); The West Side Waltz (with Katharine Hepburn, 1981); Death of a Salesman (wi th Dustin Hoffman, 1984); The Iceman Cometh (with Jason Robards, 1986); Long Day's Journey Into Night (also with Robards, 1988); Vita and Virginia (1994); and A Thousand Clowns (1996).
Edwards also designed for films and television. Film credits include: Fort Apache, the Bronx, Lovers and Other Strangers, Class of 44, and The Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Edwards' television work included: Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure; Blind Ambition, a miniseries; The Ed Wynn Show, and Liberace.
In 1998, Edwards won a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award. He is survived by Greenwood, two daughters, Sarah, a costume designer, and Katharine, and a granddaughter.
A more complete obituary and discussion of Edwards and his life's work by some of his peers will appear in the May issue of Entertainment Design.