Dallas Actors Great Barbara Bel Geddes and Father Norman article

Discussion in 'Dallas - The Original Series' started by Barbara Fan, Feb 25, 2017.

  1. Barbara Fan

    Barbara Fan Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    4,195
    Trophy Points:
    7,368
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ratings:
    +9,604
    Medals:
    6
    Gender:
    female
    Member Since:
    2000
    I have had a couple of emails from people asking if i could re post ths wonderful BBG interview which was written by James Grissom in 2012 and on the Forum before the crash!

    so here it is again

    I love it!

    Barbara Bel Geddes: Too Far Within

    Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie the Cat (1955).

    [​IMG]

    Barbara Bel Geddes was the single most difficult actress to interview for Follies of God. Bel Geddes was so resistant to being interviewed or talking about her past that she felt compelled to spend hours talking on the phone explaining to me why she hated to comply with writers, and why she hated to discuss acting. When, after months of these phone calls, I told her that we had, in fact, been conducting a rather in-depth interview, she laughed and said "I know. I do this to myself all the time. I analyze and over-explain until I have done precisely what I said I wouldn't do."

    Bel Geddes was always polite and funny, and she had no reservations about discussing her painting or her cooking or her dreams of writing more books (she was the author of two books geared toward young adults). She adored her family, particularly her father, designer Norman Bel Geddes, and her tight circle of friends. Ultimately, she admitted, she trusted me because of the samples of writing I had sent her and because we shared the same birthday, October 31st.

    She hated to talk about the theatre or films, and she insisted that if I ever included any of her quotes, they should be just typed out and presented as she said them, without the inclusion of my thoughts or opinions, or any corrections or responses from anyone else.

    "That," she said, "I could live with."

    And here are some of them.


    [​IMG]

    Bel Geddes photographed by Carl Van Vechten (1955)

    I was always determined; stubborn. I grew up in what some would call high circumstances: we lived on the East Side, and my parents had money, but I was rebellious and bored with it all. I loved it when my father designed plays, because I was fascinated by actors and directors and all theatre people, but so-called New York society bored me to death. I decided to become an actress very early, and I told my parents. There was some conviction in my family that I should go to 'good' schools and marry a nice guy, but I asked for, and received, my emancipation, and by the time I turned eighteen, I was on Broadway.

    "I'm difficult to deal with.

    "I did everything. Everyone should do everything. Stock companies, touring companies, regional theatres (of which there were very few in the early forties), Broadway, radio. Television came into being during that time, and I did that, too. You have to learn and you have to do bad things, I think. You also have to find out if you're one of the bad things. A lot of bad actors with whom I've worked thought they were just swell, and you wonder about perception. You start to look for honest teachers and peers who will tell you when you're rotten or misguided.

    "I got lucky when I was cast by [Elia] Kazan in Deep Are the Roots, the first play, to my knowledge, to acknowledge the deep racism in the hearts and minds of so-called 'good' American, Christian people. It was 1945 and the war was coming to an end and lovely Gordon Heath played a black, American soldier who returns from war a hero, but in his native South, where his mother was a cleaning lady for a fine, old Southern family, he's just a ni***r. I played a young girl, torn between the traditions of her upbringing and her desire and admiration for this noble, beautiful young man. It wasn't a great play, but it had great timing, and Kazan directed it beautifully.

    "I want to be clear about something: Kazan drove me insane. I don't mean that he abused me, although at times it might have looked that way. He drove me so deep within myself to make a part and a play real and relevant that I sometimes left rehearsals--and performances--in tears and exhausted. Only Kazan led me to realize how powerful the theatre could be, and how potent and--forgive my dependence on this word--noble the art of acting can be.

    "He made me address my own racism, which I could not believe resided in the heart of a well-raised girl with smart, so-called liberal parents, but it was there. I analyzed and scrutinized my character so deeply that I knew her better than I knew myself, and I crafted for her a biography that was quite extensive. I was good in that play; I earned the right to call myself an actress. Why? Elia Kazan. He taught me how to act.


    "Kazan was really brutal to me during Cat [on a Hot Tin Roof]. I don't think anyone saw me as Maggie the Cat. Certainly, Roger Stevens didn't: he always looked at me as if I were a rash that just wouldn't clear up quickly enough. Everyone saw Maggie as beautiful and slinky and seductive, and I'm a bit of dumpling, well-meaning, the girl you marry but begrudgingly f***. I get it. That's me. I can live with that--and have. Kazan, however, told me I was attractive, maternal, and he could see why Brick, a homosexual who marries only to quiet the family, would find me amenable. Kazan also knew that I had been a very fat child and fought my weight at all times. Kazan told me that he had known many former fat girls who had grown into beauties, and no matter how they looked in photographs and no matter how many beaux they gained, they still thought of themselves as fat and ungainly and unloved. 'Use that,' he told me, and again, I was a mess, because not only was I the fat girl, but I was the woman who was married to a gay man who hated her; who was fighting an avaricious and brilliantly manipulative family; who was determined never to be poor again; who was really fighting for her life. Kazan made me really live inside this woman's pathological fear, and it drove me crazy, but it also drove me to a good performance.

    "[Cat] is really a grand opera, I think. All the characters have their arias, and the notes are all very high and extreme. It's also exhausting, in the best sense of the word. You get fully used up in a play like that, with a director like that.

    "Tennessee was always very dear to me: He insisted that he could see me as Maggie, and he always told me that he thought I was a good actress. I know that Tennessee told everyone this, but I needed the compliment, and I took it, and I treasured it."

    "I was in the presence, I think, of two great directors: Elia Kazan and Alfred Hitchcock. Those men not only knew their craft, but they could convey it to everyone working with them so that we all became artists, crafts people of the highest caliber. Both men were very intelligent and intuitive and abrupt: They told you how to do it in a few words and made sure you were protected as you did it. And they were never wrong. The Hitchcock things I did [Vertigo and Lamb to the Slaughter, a Roald Dahl story adapted for his television program] and Cat and now Dallas, will be the things for which I'm remembered, but the work I did for Kazan and Hitchcock were when I was good, when I mattered.
     
    • Like Like x 2
    • Winner Winner x 1
  2. Barbara Fan

    Barbara Fan Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    4,195
    Trophy Points:
    7,368
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ratings:
    +9,604
    Medals:
    6
    Gender:
    female
    Member Since:
    2000
    "I loved the work of an actress, but I hated a lot of the life of an actress. The incessant publicizing, talking of oneself! You ask an actress how she's doing, and you want to hear about her family, what she's reading, and all you get is a rundown of her auditions, what she's doing next. The constant talk of casting, of whom one should know. I hated it all. I had a good mind and I wanted to read books and see films and opera and travel and take care of family and friends. I was apparently quite alone in this. I took great comfort in people like Joanne Woodward and Geraldine Page, who loved their families and kept their careers and their private lives separate and sacred. They handled it better than I did, obviously, because I just came across as impossible, difficult. A real bitch, I guess.

    "Fame is nice, I suppose. It brings money and money brings freedom. I never thought I'd be a big star, and I wasn't, but I had enough seriousness about me that I always worked. When I got an Oscar nomination [for I Remember Mama, released in 1948] I was told I would never worry for work again, and I didn't, but it doesn't mean the work is always good, or that you're happy, or that you're treated well. The responsibility for our happiness and our worth come from within all of us, not from our work or what the business thinks of you, or what is happening in the trade papers. Maybe I went too far within myself, but I'm happy. I made the choice that was right for me, and I did alright.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    "I fell madly in love with Ben Gazzara in Cat. The work was so intense in the development of my character, my need was so strong for him, that I just lost it. Ben became my oxygen, my food, my sole reason for being. I don't think he thought I was crazy or really interested in loving him fully, but it gave our performances a brilliant, manic reality. I loved that time in that play, with that company. I was very lucky. Ben was so fully alive. We had a nightly celebration that we were in such a great play having such a great time.

    "At other times you develop a sort of gallows humor when you're in a play that simply doesn't work. That happened with Everything in the Garden, one of [Edward] Albee's misguided adaptations. What a mess that was! We were all so excited; well, I was excited. I had loved Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and I was honored to be in one of his plays. Sad to discover that he cast me and Barry Nelson, actors who had starred in fluffy plays, simply to confuse the audiences. Albee is a terrific snob, and he and his producers wanted everyone to think they were coming to see a nice, suburban comedy, and then things became dark. The play was not well-written--it was a series of bitchy vignettes and attitudes. There was talk of Bette Davis playing a supporting part, but it went to divine, lovely Beatrice Straight. Beatrice, Barry, Robert Moore, and I spent every night quizzical and beleaguered. It didn't last long, thank God, and then I was off the stage for five years. Who knows? The world is so stupid now--they'll revive it and it will be called a masterpiece. Hitchcock used to say that the goal is to live so long that no one can argue with you. You fail and you don't matter and then you get your bearings again and do something brilliant, and suddenly things turn around for you. If I had the energy, maybe I'd work again, and I'm so old and sick now, have made so many mistakes and so many comebacks, they'd think I was Duse. I'll let you know when I'm ready for my close-up!

    [​IMG]



    http://jamesgrissom.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/barbara-bel-geddes-too-far-within.html
     
    • Like Like x 3
    • Winner Winner x 1
  3. Ms Southworth

    Ms Southworth Soap Chat Dream Maker

    Message Count:
    1,637
    Trophy Points:
    1,117
    Location:
    Dallas Wonderland
    Ratings:
    +2,612
    Thank you so much for taking the time to upload this, BF :thank:

    :best:
     
    • Like Like x 1
  4. Barbara Fan

    Barbara Fan Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    4,195
    Trophy Points:
    7,368
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ratings:
    +9,604
    Medals:
    6
    Gender:
    female
    Member Since:
    2000
    Back to the Future: A New Look at Modernist Hero Norman Bel Geddes, Designer of the Original 1939 “Futurama
    [​IMG]

    In 1932, The New Yorkerpublished a cartoon showing a group of businessmen sitting around a boardroom table. “Gentlemen,” one of them says, “I am convinced that our next new biscuit must by styled by Norman Bel Geddes.”

    Norman Bel Geddes never did design any biscuits, but he designed almost everything else, and for a couple of decades he was almost surely the best-known designer in America, the go-to guy for General Motors (he designed the company’s famous Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair), Chrysler (he tweaked the Airflow, one of the first commercially produced aerodynamic vehicles), Philco (radios), and RCA (more radios). He designed appliances for Electrolux, seltzer bottles for Walter Kidde, vanities for the Simmons Company, and a chrome-plated cocktail set for Revere Copper and Brass that is an exclamation point of Art Moderne. Bel Geddes, who began his career as a stage designer, was a key figure—perhaps the key figure—in the first generation of industrial designers, men like Henry Dreyfuss, Russel Wright, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Raymond Loewy.

    Those four all started firms that in some form continue today. Bel Geddes, however, did not. His studio, which once employed 75 people at a posh Rockefeller Center address, faded after World War II. He was not, it would seem, the easiest man to work for or the one most focused on client service. He was interested in his own dreams. If they happened to intersect with a client’s needs, wonderful. If not—well, by the time he died in 1958 at 65, he had become a marginal figure, his office closed. He’s a lot less remembered these days than his daughter, the actress Barbara Bel Geddes (from Rear Window and later the TV series Dallas).


    The Museum of the City of New York, which over the last few years has developed a sideline in mounting some of the best architecture and design exhibitions in town, has just dug into Bel Geddes’s archives at the University of Texas and produced a spectacular show that, if nothing else, will put him back front and center in the design consciousness. The exhibition, curated by Donald Albrecht, is the first full-scale Bel Geddes retrospective ever mounted, covering his entire career. It opens with a bit of intriguing biographical material: we learn that he was born Norman Geddes and was heavily influenced by his mother’s Christian Science not toward the religion itself, but toward its belief in mind over matter. When he was young he performed as a magician, and he was a natural salesman. What excited Geddes most of all was the idea of a glorious, glittering, modern future. You could say he was the opposite of Fritz Lang—the modern metropolis for him was going to be all spiritual enlightenment and visual beauty, a new world in which technology did only good things and made only beautiful, streamlined objects.

    Bel Geddes—the “Bel” was to incorporate the name of his first wife, but probably also because it made his name sound exotic and somehow modern—was a missionary preaching the gospel of modernism. Part of the joy of this exhilarating exhibition is seeing a lot of the objects he designed for real. There are streamlined radios, little cars that bear some resemblance to the Dymaxion car designed by Buckminster Fuller, a prototype streamlined house that looks like it would fit right into Miami Beach, and an enormous ocean liner that is vastly more beautiful than the hulking boxes that pass for cruise ships today.

    Bel Geddes’s greatest achievement, the Futurama at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, is long gone, and the fact that it exists only in photographs and some brief film clips probably contributed to Bel Geddes’s falling off the design radar. The exhibition contains a wealth of documentation of this project, however, and it gave me the chance to look at it more carefully than I ever have. The Futurama was a gargantuan model of the postwar city as Bel Geddes—and presumably GM—envisioned it: wide freeways with cloverleaf intersections, handsome and sleek skyscrapers, everything big and shiny and full of movement. It looks like the Houston of 2013 on a good day, with no smog and with constantly moving traffic. Bel Geddes’s vision of towers in open space wasn’t altogether different from Le Corbusier’s famous plans for Paris, but it’s Le Corbusier married to the razzle-dazzle hotels of John Portman. Bel Geddes’s city is full of swoops and curves; the shapely buildings dance with you instead of looking at you sternly, the way Le Corbusier’s cruciform towers do. Next to Bel Geddes’s exciting place, Le Corbusier’s seems prim, not to say puritanical. You aren’t surprised, looking at this, to learn that among the other things Bel Geddes came up with before anyone else were revolving rooftop restaurants and stadiums with retractable roofs. (His stadium was an early-1950s proposal for the Brooklyn Dodgers.)

    The Futurama turns out to be a descendant, Albrecht has discovered, of an advertising campaign Bel Geddes produced for Shell Oil in 1937 called “City of Tomorrow,” which was intended to promote the use of gasoline by showing the magnificent world that the automobile would bring forth. Bel Geddes expanded it for GM, making it even more alluring. When you look at the Futurama now, it seems like a stunning combination of foresight and naïveté. Bel Geddes figured out what the modern American city was going to look like before anyone else did. He knew that visual excitement and energy had to be a part of modernism. He just failed to understand that there were other things that made cities work, such as streets and neighborhoods, not to mention serendipity, and that these things were incompatible with the world of the automobile. Norman Bel Geddes never quite understood how the world really worked. But more than anyone else, he gave modernism panache.

    Back to the Future: A New Look at Modernist Hero Norman Bel Geddes, Designer of the Original 1939 “Futurama”
    • [​IMG]
    • [​IMG]
    • [​IMG]
    • [​IMG]
    • [​IMG]
    • [​IMG]
    • [​IMG]
    • [​IMG]
    8 / 8
    Courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation/Harry Ransom Center.
    Souvenir button given to Futurama visitors on their way out the door as they left the City of Tomorrow and returned to 1939–40.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Snarky's Ghost

    Snarky's Ghost Soap Chat Oracle

    Message Count:
    6,086
    Trophy Points:
    6,136
    Occupation:
    INFJ
    Location:
    Haunting that cozy cellar under Falcon Crest
    Ratings:
    +7,972
    Medals:
    7
    Member Since:
    September 2000
    Katzman on a hot tin roof...

    Barbara is so very different from Miss Ellie -- Uncle Lenny never seemed to have much interest in her. How differently Ellie could have been written, especially in the later years.
     
  6. Barbara Fan

    Barbara Fan Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    4,195
    Trophy Points:
    7,368
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ratings:
    +9,604
    Medals:
    6
    Gender:
    female
    Member Since:
    2000
    She is the one cast member I really wanted to sit down with a great Interviewer on TV to go thro her career pre Dallas for an hour, to get her thoughts, feelings, opinions as she comes across as very self aware, insightful, honest and I think its sad that she shunned the limelight and didnt give interivews. She worked with some of the greats and had a great story to tell herself. It would have made a nice and refreshing change from your usual Dallas interviewees and stories.

    Sadly it wasnt to be and I know she never appeared on UK TV for the above and have only ever seen clips of Dinah Shore TV show and Good Morning America (or something like that) where she was interviewed very briefly. I know it didnt sit comfortably with her - but Id love it if old footage turned up out of the blue .
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  7. Barbara Fan

    Barbara Fan Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    4,195
    Trophy Points:
    7,368
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ratings:
    +9,604
    Medals:
    6
    Gender:
    female
    Member Since:
    2000
    Which Broadway Scenic Designer Also ‘Invented’ 20th Century America?
    By Harry Haun
    Jun 12, 2017

    http://www.playbill.com/article/which-broadway-scenic-designer-also-invented-20th-century-america

    In the biography The Man Who Designed the Future, the man who designed 200 stage productions also designed planes, refrigerators, and skyscrapers.
    [​IMG]


    “I didn’t see much of my father, but I absolutely adored him,” declares Barbara Bel Geddes dutifully—and quite truthfully—toward the tail end of The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes and the Invention of Twentieth-Century America.

    That may seem a rather lofty subtitle, but B. Alexandra Szerlip, Bel Geddes’ obsessively thorough biographer, makes a strong case that America when he died “was almost unrecognizable from the one he’d been born into. He could rightfully take credit for having put a hand to that vast difference.”

    [​IMG]
    The Miracle - September 8, 1924
    A soaring imagination produced innovations in far-flung fields of endeavor. He designed planes, trains, and automobiles, even highways. Also, ships, stoves, kitchen scales, refrigerators, opera houses, burlesque houses, nightclubs, skyscrapers, cocktail shakers, fountain pens, shaving brushes, furniture, garters, typewriters, fly swatters, and all-weather stadiums.
     
  8. Barbara Fan

    Barbara Fan Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    4,195
    Trophy Points:
    7,368
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ratings:
    +9,604
    Medals:
    6
    Gender:
    female
    Member Since:
    2000
    Part 2

    Happily, he loved theatre and worked both sides of the footlights, redesigning auditoriums and creating artistic stage lighting with different intensities, colors, angles and shadows that pulled the audience into the action.

    Playbill Vault lists him with 35 Broadway credits in roles ranging from scenic designer to director to costume designer to producer to lighting designer. He designed 200 productions—most notably, converting a 1924 theatre into a medieval cathedral for Max Reinhardt’s The Miracle and turning an orchestra pit into an East River swimming hole in Sidney Kingsley’s 1935 Dead End.

    In cahoots with George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky, he created a ballet with 50 elephants for Ringling Bros. For the movie cameras, he reenacted the Trojan War, with insects for Greeks. His Futurama exhibit for General Motors at the 1939 New York World’s Fair featured a bird’s eye view of a metropolis in 1960.

    He created, clashed, or crossed paths with all kinds of titans: Reinhardt, Amelia Earhart, Belasco, the Gershwins, Frank Lloyd Wright, DeMille (“Never have I seen a man with so pre-eminent a position splash so fondly about in mediocrity, and, like a child building a sand castle, so serenely convinced that he was producing works of art”), Einstein, Sonja Henie, Anaïs Nin, Chaplin, and the Algonquin Round Table crew.

    Yet his own name—despite the above—isn’t known much. Actually, it wasn’t even his name. He was born Norman Melancton Geddes and took Bel from his first wife, Helen Belle Schneider, when they were collaborating on articles about art. She was the first of his four wives, all of whom complained of a certain lack of attention. Inventing the 20th-century seems to have left little time for anything else.


     
  9. Taylor Bennett Jr.

    Taylor Bennett Jr. Soap Chat TV Fanatic

    Message Count:
    1,335
    Trophy Points:
    892
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    one of them high rises down in Venezuela
    Ratings:
    +2,361
    Gender:
    male
    man, what an amazing career and body of work!
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  10. Barbara Fan

    Barbara Fan Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    4,195
    Trophy Points:
    7,368
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ratings:
    +9,604
    Medals:
    6
    Gender:
    female
    Member Since:
    2000
    I get the impression he had a lot of fingers in lots of pies, not to mention quite a few wives too!
    There is some of his work displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in Dallas. I wonder if Miss Ellie showed Wes it when they went there and he gave her a yellow rose!!
     
  11. Barbara Fan

    Barbara Fan Super Moderator Staff Member

    Message Count:
    4,195
    Trophy Points:
    7,368
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Scotland
    Ratings:
    +9,604
    Medals:
    6
    Gender:
    female
    Member Since:
    2000
    Another article on father Norman Bel Geddes

    Rediscovering Norman Bel Geddes, The Visionary Who Laid Out America’s Future

    A new book revisits the career of Norman Bel Geddes, a visionary designer who overflowed with ideas for everyday products, futuristic cities, and just about everything in between.

    Norman Bel Geddes is one of those figures whose talent is almost frustrating, so diverse were his skills and so naturally they seemed to come to him. A self-trained polymath, Geddes began his career by revolutionizing American theater in the 1920s, but the ensuing decades saw him dabble in an astonishing variety of disciplines. Here’s one example of that staggering scope: In the 1930s, the Ohio-based Toledo Scale Company commissioned Geddes to redesign its signature product, a countertop scale. While he was at it, the company asked him to conceive a new factory in which to manufacture it. Years later, Toledo officials tapped Geddes to plan the restructuring of the entire city itself.

    Alas, none of these three designs ever came to fruition, and in many respects, Geddes’s career was defined by a vision that was easier to appreciate than it was to realize. But as evidenced by a new book, as well as an extensive exhibition that just wrapped up at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, Geddes’s influence can be seen all around us today.

    As diverse as was Geddes’s body of work, much of it can be seen as the product of a certain optimism about the future and a curiosity to tease out all of its potential. As Donald Albrecht, the editor of Norman Bel Geddes Designs America, writes in the book’s introduction, Geddes was “a strong believer in . . . the idea that art as well as architecture and design could make people’s lives psychologically and emotionally richer.”

    The first medium Geddes upturned was theater. Working on nearly a hundred Broadway shows and operas throughout the 1920s, the designer introduced an entirely new look to the American stage, introducing “broad strokes of color, dramatic lighting, simplified detail, and exaggerated and abstracted settings and costumes,” Albrecht explains, to suit a new class of playwrights who were “exploring deeper psychological depth in their work.”

    Geddes not only brought a new look to the shows he worked on but often times re-imagined the theater experience altogether. For his production of The Miracle, in 1924, Geddes’s transformation of New York’s Century Theater into a convincing Gothic cathedral went beyond the stage, including light filtered through stained glass, the addition of wooden pews instead of seats for audience members, and incense burned to scent the air. His innovations could be found behind the scenes, too: that production saw the debut of a unified switchboard, operated by a single technician, for controlling the direction and color of the show’s lights.

    But the theater was only a single hermetic space, and Geddes’s thirst to enrich lives eventually led him to greater challenges. In 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, Geddes published Horizons, a manifesto of sorts, outlining his wild visions for streamlined systems of transportation, including flying cruise liners and floating airports. But the text treated those outlandish ideas as very real possibilities, with carefully rendered plans and cutaways, lending a certain persuasiveness to Geddes’s vision. The book, Albrecht explains, became “the prow of his ship as a futurist.”

    The culmination of Geddes’s work in this regard, and in many ways the designer’s career, was the Futurama display he created for General Motors’ exhibition at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, an immersive, ride-through experience that gave visitors a tantalizing glimpse of America circa 1960, complete with skyscrapers made of glass and automobiles traveling on multilevel superhighways. As Albrecht explains in the book’s introduction, “It was Geddes, more than any designer of his era, who created and promoted a dynamic vision of the future with an image that was streamlined, technocratic, and optimistic.” But for the public, part of the appeal of Geddes’s work had to do with how he treated the future–not as a vague new era on the horizon but as something that was very real, and very imminent. “It’s not just, ‘the future is coming,'” Albrecht explains, “but, ‘it’s coming in the next five years.'” Geddes’s sense of immediacy was infectious, and Futurama was a sensation.

    During World War II, Geddes revisited an activity that he’d often employed in conceiving his lauded sets and pitching various other projects to clients: the creation of intricate miniature models. Geddes’ elaborate dioramas of the theaters of war, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and published in Life magazine, gave Americans a unique look at the action transpiring around the world. But the photographs of these models constitute an even more enduring part of Geddes’ legacy. His painstakingly realistic pictures of those miniatures, complete with cotton-ball plumes of smoke, comprised some of the early examples of model photography as we know it today.

    Geddes’ fortunes waned after the war, even as the rest of the country enjoyed a period of prosperity and innovation that he had envisaged in much of his earlier work. And while the designer had been a tireless self-promoter throughout his career, he didn’t seem as concerned, in later years, with cementing his legacy. As Albrecht points out, the autobiography Geddes published shortly before his death in 1958 covers only his early work in theater, ignoring the Futurama exhibition, his pioneering work in industrial design, and his other influential projects. The firm Geddes had founded, which at times strained to bring its visionary leader back down to Earth, dissolved before Geddes was able to establish a successor.

    Still, the new exhibition and book convincingly make the case that Geddes deserves our attention today. He was far from the only one to recognize how the face of America would be reshaped by the automobile in coming decades, but he was right there espousing that potential from the start. And while his bold designs for things like rotating, sky-borne restaurants and sports stadiums with retractable roofs might have gone unrealized by his clients at the time, history has shown that Geddes’ glittering brand of futurism wasn’t entirely quixotic.

    The exhibition I Have Seen the Future recently wrapped up at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, though it will move to the Museum of the City of New York in coming months. You can find the book, Norman Bel Geddes Designs America, over at Amazon.
     

Users Who Have Read This Thread (Total: 5)

Share This Page