Partner George Davis, W.H. Auden, Dick D'Arcy

Queer Places:
16 Main St, Wellsboro, PA 16901
February House, 7 Middagh St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
2 Water St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
70 Willow St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Shadows near the Bridge of Sighs, located between Surf and Beach on Bayview Walk, Fire Island, NY 11980
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, 301 Park Ave, New York, NY 10022

Oliver Lemuel Smith (February 13, 1918 – January 23, 1994) was an American scenic designer and interior designer. He is most remembered for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Oliver Smith was in relationships with George Davis, W.H. Auden and Jack Brown (who was married to silent movie actress Josephine Hill). Smith's partner was Dick D'Arcy, a Broadway dancer and choreographer. Smith was a distant cousin of Paul Bowles.

The work of Broadway's gay and lesbian artistic community went on display in 2007 when the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation Gallery presents "StageStruck: The Magic of Theatre Design." The exhibit was conceived to highlight the achievements of gay and lesbian designers who work in conjunction with fellow gay and lesbian playwrights, directors, choreographers and composers. Original sketches, props, set pieces and models — some from private collections — represent the work of over 60 designers, including Oliver Smith.

Miles White and Oliver Smith, well-known on Broadway (for costumes and scenic design, respectively), rented a house named "Shadows" near the Bridge of Sighs in Cherry Grove. Smith produced No Exit with Ruth Ford, directed by John Huston, also with Annabella and Claude Dauphin. He was co-producer with Herman Levin. The play was brough to Smith by Paul Bowles, who had also translated it. It was Pavel Tchelitchew who gave Smith his first job, which was to paint the drops and flats for the Balanchine-Stravinsky ballet Balustrade that he himself had designed.

by Carl Van Vechten

Born in Waupun, Wisconsin, Smith attended Penn State, after which he moved to New York City and began to form friendships that blossomed into working relationships with such talents as Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Carson McCullers, and Agnes de Mille. In his early 20s, he lived at February House in Brooklyn with a coterie of famous people centered on George Davis and W.H. Auden. He tended the furnace, washed the dishes, and soothed the tempers of both residents and visitors. His career was launched with his designs for Léonide Massine's ballet Saratoga in 1941 and de Mille's Rodeo in 1942. Smith designed dozens of Broadway musicals, films (Guys and Dolls, The Band Wagon, Oklahoma!, Porgy and Bess), and operas (La Traviata). His association with the American Ballet Theatre began in 1944, when he collaborated with Robbins and Bernstein on Fancy Free, which served as the inspiration for On the Town.

Robbins had an intimate relationship during the 1940s with Fancy Free's scene designer, Oliver Smith. Although details are limited, suggestive traces exist. In the notebook of ideas for Fancy Free where Robbins lists possible composers, he mentions Smith on one page, simply naming him. Another page features a drawing of a nude male dancer, in midleap and with an erection. An arrow from the initials J.R. (written upside down) points to the drawing. A separate document—a letter from Smith to "Jerry" dated August 8, 1944—chronicles their romantic involvement several months after the ballet's premiere. The opening paragraph is unambiguously addressed to a romantic partner, with sexual references and direct affirmation of being in love. The rest of the letter migrates between romantic gestures and details of "a layout for the show," which at that point meant On the Town. Greg Lawrence, a biographer of Robbins, speculates that Robbins had affairs with John Kriza and Harold Lang while Fancy Free was emerging. In interviews with Lawrence, various dancers associated with Ballet Theatre attested to these romances, although many were sharing hunches. Kriza was "the real love of Jerry's life then," asserted dancer Shaun O'Brien, and Lawrence quotes others who also believed that Kriza and Robbins had an affair. Janet Reed inserted Harold Lang into the mix, recalling that he was bisexual and suggesting that a romantic tie to Robbins would have been strategic. "Lang was very ambitious," Reed stated, "and it seemed to me that any homosexual relationship he had was for getting ahead. But Jerry didn't have anything to gain, whereas Lang and Kriza had everything to gain from him." Fellow dancers also suspected a romantic relationship between Robbins and Leonard Bernstein. "They had a kind of brief encounter," declared the dancer Richard D'Arcy, "an affair just in that early period when they were doing Fancy Free." D'Arcy believed it happened "when the score was being written."

After Fancy Free, Smith became co-director of ABT with Lucia Chase, a position he held until 1980. He designed the sets for ABT's complete 1967 production of Swan Lake, the first full-length version mounted by an American company. Smith also trained young designers for many years, serving on the faculty of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he taught master classes in scenic design. Throughout his career, Smith was nominated for twenty-five Tony Awards, often multiple times in the same year, and won ten. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for his work on Guys and Dolls. Smith was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1981.[1] In 2011, Smith was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame. Smith redesigned the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (New York City Landmark and Interior Landmark), New York, in the early 1960s. Smith died of emphysema in Brooklyn, New York.

My published books:

See my published books