Charles Elson, a set and lighting designer, technical director, and teacher, died March 30 at his home in Armonk, NY. He was 90 years old.
Born in Chicago in 1909, and a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Elson's first theatrical production was The Ticket of Leave Man at New Hampshire's Chase Barn Playhouse in 1934. He moved to LA and designed The House of Connelly at the Mayan Theatre, then moved to Maine, where he designed 44 productions at the Ogunquit Playhouse from 1939 to 1945. His first New York production was a modern version of Shakespeare's As You Like It in 1945, imported to the President Theatre from a production at the University of Washington in Seattle. According to The New York Times, Elson's sets received more critical praise than the production did.
Also in 1945, Elson became an assistant to scenic designer Donald Oenslager. They worked together on such shows as Pygmalion (1945) and Born Yesterday (1946). Among Elson's credits as a lighting and design assistant were: The Temporary Mrs. Smith, Loco, Present Laughter, Years Ago, Lovely Me, and The Abduction From the Seraglio (opera), all in 1946; in 1947, Elson assisted on The Greatest of These and Portrait in Black.
Elson designed numerous productions, including Hidden Horizon, Park Avenue, Land's End, and The Fatal Weakness in 1946, Virginia Sampler, The First Mrs. Fraser, and Duet for Two Hands in 1947; Power Without Glory, Kathleen, The Cup of Trembling, Present Laugher, and Private Lives (with Tallulah Bankhead) in 1948; Albert Herring and Regina (lighting design) in 1949; The Lady's Not for Burning and Out of This World, on both of which he also was the technical director, and An Enemy of the People (lighting) in 1950; The Rose Tattoo, Kiss Me, Kate (in London, where he again served at TD), Nina, Borscht Capades, and La Plume de ma Tante in 1951; Collector's Item (lighting) and The Deep Blue Sea in 1952; The Little Hut (lighting) in 1953; Quadrille (as setting supervisor) in 1954; The Champagne Complex in 1955; The Lovers in 1956; Compulsion in 1957; Blue Denim and Maria Golovin in 1958; First Impressions in 1959; Wildcat and Troilus and Cressida (lighting) in 1960; Henry IV, Richard II, and Shakespeare Revisited at American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT, and Program for Two Players (lighting) and The Perfect Setup in 1962; and Photo Finish in 1963.
Elson also designed for opera, designing productions for the Central City Opera in Colorado (Fidelio and Martha in 1947) and the New York Metropolitan Opera (The Flying Dutchman in 1950, Lohengrin in 1952, Don Giovanni in 1953, Norma in 1954, and Madame Butterfly in 1958). For City Center Opera at the New York State Theatre, he designed Dialogues With the Carmelites in 1968.
In 1950, Elson designed sets for the Katherine Dunham Ballet; he was assistant art director on one film, A Star Is Born, in 1954. In addition to his long design career, Elson taught scene design at Hunter College at the City University of New York, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Iowa; he was cultural attache for the State Department in Southeast Asia in the 70s and edited several volumes of technical writing on stage design.
Elson is survived by his daughter, Alexandra, in New York, and a brother and sister.