Brandon Hernández 10:05 a.m., May 22
I mentioned Lewis Brown in a recent blog entry about Cygnet's Dirty Blonde. Years ago, he told me that contrary to popular belief, Mae West, unclothed, was "petite." He saw her measurements at Western Costume, and she was no where near the size she portrayed on stage and screen.
Now with a lot of people that kind of insider, on the QT name-dropping can give one pause, or promise to take the info. under advisement.
With Lewis, it was yet another accurate to-the-marrow observation. He designed costumes for almost 50 years and knew whereof he spoke, be it the nuances of Reinhardt's immortal A Midsummer Night's Dream, at Hollywood Bowl, in 1938, or the 1967 Broadway revival of Marat/Sade (his costumes), or the difference between designing for the wife of a Venetian doge, circa 1650, and a Venetian whore.
To this day, his sketches hang from the walls of many mansions.
A human encyclopedia, and one hell of a human being. In his presence one learned to hit one's mute button and listen.
His favorite word was "astonishing." And his stories always were. Everyone who knew him had a favorite. Mine: he was asked to look at living room curtains at an un-named woman's home. All hush-hush. At 9:00 a.m. a servant let him in. Once in the main room he saw the problem immediately. The wide expanse of folds was wrong for the space: too bright or dreary, can't recall.
He went to one side and pulled the cord that pulled the curtains back and heard an agonized moan "worthy of Greek tragedy." He turned and noticed a familiar face beneath the black eye-shades on her forehead: Joan Crawford.
When he told that one Lewis always added - against the popular perception - that after she recovered, Crawford was quite pleasant.
Lewis designed for film (Valdez is Coming among many); Broadway (Jimmy Shine and A Flea in her Ear among them); opera (Los Angeles Opera's Faust); TV (The Crucible). And for decades he was one of the Old Globe's principal artists, with over 25 productions to his credit.
Lewis won many awards - including a San Diego Critics Circle Award for his Antony and Cleopatra at the Old Globe (1987) - but many felt he deserved national recognition for, in a word, his astonishing body of work.
Lewis passed away January, 2011. He was 83.
In April, 2011, Lewis was awarded the TDF/Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award. Named for the legendary artist, the award has become the pinnacle for costume designers.
Sadly, Lewis never knew about the honor.