Design and Desire’s Look Back at 2013

Design and Desire in the Twentieth Century would like to wish our readers all the best in the coming New Year. Let’s take a moment to remember people and events from 2013.

  1. Fifitieth Anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin County Civic Center
  2. Fifitieth Anniversary of Kodak’s Instamatic Camera
  3. Hundreth Anniversary of Cass Clibert’s Woolworth Building
  4. Demolition of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital
  5. Demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hoffman Auto Showroom
  6. Louis Kahn’s Esherick House Goes on the Market
  7. Flood Waters Threaten Mies Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House 
  8. George Eastman House establishes Dodge and Burn Blog
  9. Edgar Taffel Archives Open for Research

In Memoriam

Blogs to Follow in 2014 (if you haven’t already)


It’s Alive! Inside Dr. Frankenstein’s Laboratory

Design and Desire in the Twentieth Century celebrates Halloween by featuring the life and work of Charles D. Hall, the production designer responsible for the look of Universal's iconic horror films of the 1930s.

In this video excerpt from Frankenstein (1931), Hall combines styles from Gothic architecture in Frankenstein’s castle with Art Deco inspired laboratory technology. Hall’s design influenced the look of horror films for decades.


Slideshow Tribute to The Black Cat (1934)

Screen Deco's Matthew C. Hoffman has created a terrific slideshow tribute to the stylish Art Deco inspired Universal horror film The Black Cat (1934). Since Halloween is just a few days away and yesterday we ran a post on the film’s production designer, Charles D. Hall we thought it was a perfect time to share. Enjoy.

Charles D. Hall: The Man Who Designed Horror

It’s October, Halloween is in the air – a time for monsters, witches, spooks and spirits. It’s a perfect time to look at the work of Universal Studios art director Charles D. Hall. You may have never heard of Charles D. Hall.  He certainly doesn’t sound as if he was very scary, but Hall designed the look of perhaps the two most famous horror films of all time: Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931). Hall’s sets for these films have influenced horror films, as well as the look of Halloween, for over the past eighty years. 

Charles D. Hall’s Early Life 

Charles D. Hall was born in Norwich, England in 1888 1; little is known of his childhood. As a young man he worked in theatre and in an unknown capacity in an architect’s office. In 1911 Hall, along with his brother Archer, emigrated to Canada. What the two did there is unknown, but they must not have found themselves in a very satisfactory situation, as they moved to Southern California the following year. For the brothers the move was fortuitous, as the area was becoming a bustling hub of silent film production. Charles found employment building sets, and Archer painted sets.2 It was during this period that Charles married his wife Lura, and the pair remained together until Charles’s death in 1970.3

Charles Hall and Charlie Chaplin

Modern Times
Director: Charlie Chaplin, Art director: Charles D. Hall. A scene from Modern Times (1936).

Charles’s film design work began to get him attention. One person who noticed Hall’s designs was comedian Charlie Chaplin, who, by the late 1910s, had become a major silent film star and film director.  It’s quite possible that Hall’s and Chaplin’s paths crossed originally back in England during the time they had both been employed by Fred Karno's music hall troupe. Hall began working for Chaplin in 1918, serving as art director for several comedy shorts, including: A Dog’s Life, Shoulder Arms and Sunnyside.1 Hall’s first feature length film project was Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), however, Hall’s work on that film was uncredited. During the 1920s Hall served as art director for Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1927).1 In the following decade Hall designed sets for Chaplin’s City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936), which features the famous factory scene where Hall’s “immense machinery of cogs and wheels that almost consume Chaplin”2.

Hall’s “Horrific” Projects for Universal

Hunchback of Notre Dame
Director: Wallace Worsely, Art director: Charles D. Hall. A scene from Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923).

Hall joined Universal in 1923, where he designed “the large and impressive set for the silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Lon Chaney.”2  “The style Hall created drew from Gothic architecture4 and carried over into his work on 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera, as well as his iconic later films for Director James Whale, Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931).  According to Hollywood legend, Hall was so inspired by the tale of Dracula that locked himself in the studio and worked overnight on the film’s sets.1 Hall served as art director on eleven of James Whale’s films.3 Other notable horror films Hall was credited on include: Edgar G. Ulmer’s stylish Art Deco thriller The Black Cat (1934) with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi;5The Invisible Man, (1933); Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932); The Bride of Frankenstein (1935); and, credited as Daniel Hall, The Vampire Bat (1933).1  Hall’s art direction on these Universal Films “would influence filmmakers and haunt movie goers for decades to come”4

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer, Art Director: Charles D. Hall. A scene from The Black Cat (1934).

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Dante Ferretti: Big Time Big Screen Designer

One of Design and Desire in the Twentieth Century’s favorite bloggers, Cathy Whitlock of Cinema Style and author of Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction, shared news of a current exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that pays homage to the work of film production designer, Dante Ferretti.

Scene from the film Hugo
Dante Ferretti, Production Designer. A scene from inside of the early Twentieth Century train station clock from the film Hugo (2011).

During his fifty-plus year career, Dante Ferretti has worked with such noted directors as Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese and Frances Ford Coppola. His film credits include The Age of Innocence, Meet Joe Black, Casino, Cold Mountain, The Aviator and Hugo to name but a few of his projects. According to, the Italian-born designer is currently working on Kenneth Branaugh’s adaptation of Cinderella.

We couldn’t think of a Hollywood designer who deserves a more fitting tribute. The exhibition, "Dante Ferretti: Design and Construction for the Cinema", runs now through February 28, 2014 at the Museum of Modern Art. 

Read more about the exhibition on Cinema Style.

The Aviator
Date Ferretti, Production Designer. A scene of 1930s Hollywood from the film The Aviator (2004).

Palace Builders: Great Architect from the Golden Age of Theatres

Since we here at Design and Desire in the Twentieth Century are huge classic cinema fans, we’d give anything to have the opportunity to visit the current exhibition at the Sheldon Art Galleries’ Bernoudy Gallery of Architecture in St. Louis, MO.  According to the gallery’s Web site:

This exhibit features original watercolor renderings, photographs, blueprints, and artifacts of theatres from 1892 to the 1930s designed by Adler & Sullivan, Walter W. Alschlager, C. Howard Crane, John Eberson, Thomas W. Lamb, and Rapp and Rapp.

The exhibit was co-curated by the Theatre Historical Society of America and made possible By Mary Strauss. The show runs now through Janurary 25, 2014.

Ambassador Theatre

The Ambassador Theatre, St. Louis (1926-1997), architects: Rapp and Rapp, Chicago. Photograph courtesy of the Theatre Historical Society,

Ray Harryhausen: Stop Action Animation Pioneer (1920-2013)

Hollywood is mourning the loss of Ray Harryhausen, stop action pioneer, who died on May 7, 2013 in London according to National Public Radio.  Harryhausen’s film credits include: Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, One Million Years B.C. and Clash of the Titans among others.  He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003.1

Ray Harryhausen
Ray Harryhausen and one of his stop action creations circa 1965. Photo credit: Hulton Archives/Getty images.

Reference (2013). Ray Harryhausen.


Edith Head on Audrey Hepburn and “Transformation Through Wardrobe”

In this clip from a 1953 episode of “You Asked For It” Hollywood costume design legend Edith Head explains to host Art Baker how she familiarizes herself with a film’s actress as part of the process of “transformation through wardrobe.”

The example Edith Head uses here to illustrate this concept is her work with Audrey Hepburn for the film Roman Holiday. Edith Head won the Oscar in 1953 for costume design for Roman Holiday.

Read about designer Edith Head in a recent post.

Edith Head: Queen of Hollywood Costume Design

Even if you’re not an aficionado of classic Hollywood Cinema, chances are good that you are familiar with costume designer, Edith Head. Head reigned as the leading Hollywood costume designer for nearly five decades, earning thirty-five Oscar nominations and winning eight awards1 for costume design — the most for a woman in any motion picture category.2 But did you know that this legendary designer began her career as a romance languages teacher in a private girls’ school?

Edith Head’s Early Teaching Career

Born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernardino, California in 1897, and raised in the small mining town of Searchlight, Nevada, Edith earned a Master’s degree in French from Stanford University in 1920. She soon obtained a position as a language teacher at The Bishop School in La Jolla, California and later taught French at Hollywood School For Girls where she would be asked to also teach art.2 “To improve her drawing skills… she took evening art classes at the Chouinard Art College3. Edith soon discovered that she very much enjoyed working with figures and costumes.2

Edith Head and Carole Baker
Producer Joseph Levine, actress Carroll Baker and Edith Head on the set of Harlow (1965). Photographer unknown.

Edith Head’s Early Work At Paramount

Despite having no real professional experience in design or costume, Edith Head applied for a position as a sketch artist with Famous Players-Lasky Studios (later to become Paramount Studios) in 1924. She landed the job and soon was working as an assistant costume designer.2

Edith Head’s work during this period was often overshadowed by Paramount’s then head designer, Howard Greer then later under Travis Banton. After Banton resigned in 1938, Head was promoted to Paramount’s chief costume designer. She received public notoriety for Dorothy Lamour's “sarong” dress in the films The Jungle Princess (1936)3 and The Hurricane (1937)2.

It was during this time that Edith Head’s marriage to Charles Head, a salesman with a drinking problem, dissolved, but the designer would continue to use her first husband’s name throughout her career.4 “In 1940 Edith Head married one of her best friends, Wiard Boppo (Bill) Ihnen, a Paramount set designer”4. (Ihnen himself won two Academy Awards for Wilson and for Blood on the Sun.)5 The couple remained married until Ihnen’s death in 1979.4

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Silly Saturday: Marilyn Peep Show

Karyn Zupke, Marilyn Monroe (n.d.). Copyright 2012 PeepTopia!

Apologies for the rather misleading headline, but we just couldn’t resist. If you look closely at the image posted here, you can see that the Andy Warhol inspired portrait of actress Marilyn Monroe is made of Peeps® marshmallow candies. How Sweet it is!

Visit PeepTopia to view more Peeps® masterpieces.