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Cineaste (2001) - The World of Hollywood Art Design: An Interview with Henry Bumstead




In an interview, Hollywood's most celebrated art designer, Henry Bumstead, discusses the art designer's contribution to a film's visual style.


In early August 2000, Henry Bumstead, one of Hollywood's most celebrated art designers, walked on stage in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Film Festival Awards ceremony to receive a special award in Production Design for a lifetime of work. At age eighty-five, "Bummy," as he is affectionately known throughout the industry, had had quite a week, for his eighty-seventh film — Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys — had just opened to strong reviews and equally strong box-office receipts. Bumstead could well afford to smile that week, for few individuals have left such a legacy in Hollywood, and, as Clint Eastwood made clear in a comment the year before, "I hope Bummy will work with me until I'm too old to work because I know he will never be too old!"

The award was an apt celebration of Bumstead's career from 1937 to the present, a remarkable career involving over eighty-seven films, and including Academy Awards for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, directed by Robert Mulligan) and The Sting (1974, directed by George Roy Hill) with Academy Award nominations for Vertigo (1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock) and Unforgiven (1982, directed by Clint Eastwood). Beginning at Paramount in 1937, at the height of the Depression, Bumstead notes, "I was making $35 a week when my classmates from USC who became lawyers were making $10 a week. In those days we did everything on the lot, so it was great training!" He went on to work with some of the most talented filmmakers Hollywood has known, making four films with Alfred Hitchcock, eight with George Roy Hill, and twelve with Clint Eastwood.

But that's only the beginning, for Bumstead has also worked with Compton Bennett, Claude Binyon, David Butler, Michael Curtiz, Cecil B. DeMille, John Farrow, Leslie Fenton, Walter Hart, Mitchell Leisen, Arthur Lubin, Anthony Mann, Daniel Mann, George Marshall, Norman McLeod, David Miller, Robert Mulligan, Paul Newman, Norman Panama, Nicholas Ray, Mark Robson, William Russell, Mark Sandrich, George Seaton, Victor Scherzinger, John Sturges, Norman Taurog, Hal Walker, and, yes, even one film with Billy Wilder.

The study of production or art design is notoriously underdeveloped in cinema studies. Vincent LoBrutto, in his collection of interviews with production designers, By Design (Praeger, 1992), notes, "A mysterious veil hangs over the magnitude of the production designer's role in the filmmaking process." Michael L. Stephens, writing in Art Directors in Cinema (McFarland & Company, 1998), is ...

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