Richard Sylbert, the veteran movie production designer whose status in his profession is rivaled only by Dean Tavoularis, died Saturday, March 23, at the Motion Picture & Television Home in Woodland Hills, CA. The designer, who had been suffering from cancer, was 73.
Sylbert won two Oscars, in 1966 for Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid of Virigina Woolf?, and in 1990, for Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. But that doesn't begin to reflect his more than 40-year body of work. Here are a few of his credits: Elia Kazan's Baby Doll (1956), A Face in the Crowd (1957), and Splendor in the Grass (1961); John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate and Sidney Lumet's Long Day's Journey into Night (both 1962); The Pawnbroker, also for Lumet, in 1965; Nichols' The Graduate (1967) and Carnal Knowledge (1971); Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974), for Roman Polanski; Hal Ashby's Shampoo (1975); Beatty's Reds (1981); Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club (1984); and Brian De Palma's The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and Carlito's Way (1993). More recent films include Mulholland Falls, Blood and Wine, and My Best Friend's Wedding.
Like his twin brother Paul, also a production designer, Brooklyn native Sylbert started out in the 1950s painting scenery for TV. He was mentored by pioneering production designer William Cameron Menzies and moved to Los Angeles, where he shortly broke into feature film design. In the 1970s, Sylbert served for three years as vice president in charge of production at Paramount--a position unfilled by any other production designer.
Sylbert once defined his philosophy of production design, passed on from Menzies and as distinct from art direction, at an AFI seminar: "If I draw every shot, then all the parts connect. And they are related to one another, to make a given whole."