Production designer Terence Marsh understandably gets pigeonholed as a master of the sweeping, big-set, period spectacular. After all, he won best art direction Oscars for his work on “Dr. Zhivago” and “Oliver!” — shared with production designing legend John Box, who was his mentor and frequent collaborator. Other credits from the ’60s include “Lawrence of Arabia” and “A Man for All Seasons.”
On his own, Marsh also received Academy Award nominations for the musical “Scrooge” and for “Mary Queen of Scots.”
But over a career spanning 50 years, Marsh, who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Art Directors Guild at the group’s annual kudofest Saturday, has applied his meticulous designer skills to create the worlds for films spanning nearly every genre. Among his many credits: World War II epic “A Bridge Too Far,” adult romance “A Touch of Class,” courtroom drama “Absence of Malice,” Cold War thriller “The Hunt for Red October” and prison drama “The Shawshank Redemption.”
“I especially like doing comedies,” says Marsh. The 78-year-old Englishman has worked on five films directed by comic actor Gene Wilder. After their first collaboration in London in 1975 on “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” Wilder kept hiring Marsh and was pivotal in getting him to eventually relocate to Los Angeles, where the second part of his career unfolded.
“Gene would take me to this regular Sunday morning tennis game where I met Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner,” he recalls. That led to Marsh working with Brooks on sci-fi parody “Spaceballs,” mocking “Star Wars,” and he was production designer on “Bert Rigby, You’re a Fool,” for Reiner.
Wilder, who remains a close friend, will hand out the award to Marsh at the ADG event.
The switch to Hollywood did not mean the end of heavy lifting for Marsh. For “Havana,” directed by Sydney Pollack, he re-created Cuba’s capital in the Dominican Republic, the location for the shoot. The detailed set of the interior of the atomic submarine in “Red October” that Marsh devised was so convincing that even the Navy was wowed.
Gifted as an artist, Marsh got a job at England’s Rank studios in the 1950s when everyone worked under contract. He climbed the rungs in the art department over the next six years while he mastered the elements of production design. In a propitious move, he decided to go off on his own in 1960 and landed his first job as a freelance art director on “Lawrence of Arabia.” That was the first time he worked under Box, another Rank alum, who was director David Lean’s production designer.
“I launched from the warm family cocoon at Rank and was fortunate enough to land on my feet with John, who gave me some big jobs to do for my age and experience,” says Marsh. “We worked together for 10 years, doing these fantastic movies, one after the other.”
What: ADG Awards
When: Saturday, 6:30 p.m. cocktails; 7:30 p.m. dinner
Where: Beverly Hilton Hotel