The Times Leader
Aug. 28, 2013
Mr. Charles Alvin Lisanby, Jr., passed away peacefully in the presence of his family in Los Angeles, California, on August 23, 2013, at the age of 89. Mr. Lisanby had a seven decade career in the arts and entertainment industry, marked by 16 Emmy Nominations and 3 Wins for Baryshnikov on Broadway, Ben Franklin, The Ambassador — mini series, and (Barry) Manilow: Big Fun on Swing Street.
Born in Princeton, Ky., Mr. Lisanby arrived in New York City at the age of 16 to pursue art studies and an apprenticeship with the legendary Broadway & Film Art Director, Cecil Beaton. Following a stint in the Army, he landed a position at CBS and later at ABC as their first Art Director. He worked on many variety shows including the Garry Moore Show, where Carol Burnett, among others got their start. In fact, it was Charles who recommended Ms. Burnett to Moore’s producer Bob Banner.
Bob Banner, one of television’s pioneering producers hired Charles for many variety shows, including 12 for Alan King, 2 for Paul Lynde, Bob Hope, Kathy Lee Gifford, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Diana Ross among others. Twelve of his musical specials won Emmys for best Variety Show. He did multiple Motion Picture Academy Awards Shows, the Grammys, and the first MTV Awards shows. He also designed the theatrical and television “Applause” starring Lauren Bacall. Commercial producers also reached out to Mr. Lisanby to design, among others, the CLIO award winning original and most memorable Merrill Lynch “bull” commercials as well as 7 Dr. Pepper commercials and the Panasonic “hands” commercials.
He was the designer of Radio City’s Christmas Show from ’78 through ’95 and the full run of their Easter show during that period. His one act play adaptation of “Christmas Carol” ran for 7 years at Radio City. He served as production designer of the Las Vegas Tropicana, “Folies Bergere” for its entire run and Radio City’s touring show in Vegas for 77 weeks. He designed the live musical shows Tropworld, Atlantic City, the Conrad Hilton’s Starz Show in Australia and the French Revue for the Bahamas Princess Hotel. Commencing in 1980, he was the designer of the Crystal Cathedral’s Christmas and Easter Productions for their entire run.
Mr. Lisanby wrote an original musical entitled, “Family Tree,” which became the basis for the musical, “Children of Eden” with lyrics and music by Stephen Schwartz. Children of Eden continues to play all over the world. He also wrote the title and dialogue for Andy Warhol’s, “25 Cats Name Sam & One Blue Pussy,” which earned both of them their first copyrighted work.
Charles has been honored by the Art Directors Guild at the Museum of Television & Radio, the Television Academy with his election to their Hall of Fame as the first in his peer group, Production Designers/Art Directors and a display of a major body of his designs at the Los Angeles Main Public Library in Getty Hall.
His creative imprint has had a lasting impact on production design on TV and on the stage. His former assistants have gone on to successful careers of their own, including Chuck Muraw ski, Bruce Ryan, Dwight Jackson and John Cal kins, many of whom are current Emmy nominees and/or past nominees/winners.
Mr. Lisanby is survived by his nieces, Dr. Sarah Hollingsworth Lisanby of Durham, N.C., and Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Lisanby Bianchi of Huntsville, Ala.; his sister-in-law, Mrs. Gladys Elnora Kemp Lisanby of Princeton, Ky.; and his partner Mr. Richard Bostard. He is preceded in death by his brother, Rear Admiral James Walker Lisanby, USN Ret. and his parents, Rebecca Hollingsworth Lisanby and Charles Alvin Lisanby, Sr.
Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 1, at Morgan’s Funeral Home at 301 W. Washington St., Princeton, Ky. 42445. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Charles Lisanby Center, which was created to help perpetuate the legacy of this great artist and designer, and to contribute to the education of students of the arts for decades to come. Checks should be made to: JMU Foundation — Charles Lisanby Center, Mailing address: James Madison University, Advancement Gifts and Records, MSC 3603, 220 University Blvd., Harrisonburg, Va. 22807.