It’s easy enough to refer to John as a gentleman and a scholar but he was so much more.
Dreamer, creator, professor, mentor, artist, gourmet, politician, facilitator, master of ceremonies, keeper of the flame, Bacchus and Dionysus, Pyramus and Thisbe, Sheridan Whiteside – the man who came to dinner and never left the party – John embodied all these characteristics and personas.
Loved by most everyone, generous without fault, always one to find the common ground and turn the howling dogs into purring kittens. His capacity to listen, learn, absorb, multitask, lead or follow, had no equal. He applied his creative energies towards anything and everything, plays, musicals, opera, dance, motion pictures, television, all with wild abandon. Afraid of everything and nothing he remains an inspiration to us all.
A leading and passionately proud member of Locals 829 and 800, he gave back to these institutions far above his measure to his role as a public servant without any hesitation or regret. If there was a deep end in the pool of life or his profession, John would be the cannon ball to displace all the water with a wry smile and wink reassuring all that a happy ending was possible, and we can figure anything out if united.
John and I followed in the tradition of the first designers for motion pictures who all began their careers in the theatre and opera in Paris, London, and New York. Admiring these pioneers from another time and world, we shared their love and traditions for putting on the show, working on the shop floor, sleeping under our drawing tables, solving problems, slaying dragons, and ogres (directors and producers), and saving the prince or princess depending on one’s proclivity. In the theatre “We is Me”. What little you have you make the best of, and you are grateful to those that volunteer for the love of it rather than the remuneration. Praise was always welcome, but it was best when it was from a place of accomplishment, respect, kindness, and love. For John the play was always the thing! His abilities to realize his inspirations and aspirations took many forms and came to life in basements, barns, parks, theatres, distant locations, or soundstages.
Though proud and never lacking in opinions or honesty, his innate sense of decency and humanity were forever his North Star. We need more like John in our profession not less. Damn the gods for taking him far too soon! But like the great theatre designer, Jo Mielziner, John passed while working on a show. It’s the best way to leave the stage for those who love what we do with others and not just for ourselves.
John, you cannot be replaced but your legacy lives on and marches forward through the hundreds of young designers that you mentored, nurtured, inspired, harangued, tormented, and sent out into the world. There is a big piece of you in all of them. You have prepared them to tame and enlighten the future generations of dragons and ogres so that the show really can go on and look fantastic!
John you will be forever loved and missed, but we know you will always be in the wings of our stages, load-ins, and performances with a smile and wink…bless you.
Thomas A. Walsh
For about John:
A tribute reel of excerpts from "Creative Quarantine Sessions" with Alexander Whittenberg