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Costume sketch by Lester Polakov for Subtle in The Alchemist
at Columbia University, New York (1939). Courtesy of Costume Design by Lynn Pecktal.
Costume sketch by Lester Polakov for Twelfth Night
for production in Boston in 1959. Courtesy of Ms. Kitty Leech.
2006 Award Winner Lester Polakov
Lester Polakov was born in Chicago in 1916. He subsequently moved to New York and studied with German Dadaist/Expressionist painter George Grosz. But it was by studying with Professor Milton Smith at Columbia University that he discovered his true design abilities. It was also through Professor Smith that he met his lifetime friend and colleague, designer Ben Edwards. Smith introduced both men to the profession of scenic design, which was previously unknown to them. Together, the two men also took a drafting class taught by costume and scenic designer Emeline Roche. It was through Roche that they both had their first real contact with Broadway. Ultimately, both men would work with such great directors as Harold Clurman and Elia Kazan.
In 1936, Polakov began his summer stock career when he designed the sets for the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. He continued to design for various summer stock companies, and in 1939 his hard summer work paid off when he made his debut in New York City as the scenic designer for The Mother.
After distinguished service in World War II, Polakov resumed designing and also began painting, with several exhibitions of his paintings as a result. During the early postwar years, he juggled costume, scenery and lighting design, sometimes performing all three tasks on a single show.
In 1958, Polakov established the Lester Polakov Studio of Stage Design, later known as the Studio and Forum of Stage Design, where he employed some of the best-known designers of sets, lights and costumes to teach. In addition to teaching and overseeing the operation of the school, he continued to design sets and costumes for the stage.
In 1993, Polakov published the now highly sought-after book, We Live To Paint Again
, and in 1999, he received the United States Institute for Theatre Technology's Distinguished Achievement Award in Scenery.Lester Polakov’s Credits (partial list)Reunion in New York
(1940)Crazy with the Heat
(1941)Lady in the Dark
(1941)Call Me Mister
(1946)Crime and Punishment
(1947)The Nineteenth Hole of Europe
(1949)The Member of the Wedding
(1950)The Golden State
(1950)The Little Blue Light
(1952)The Emperor’s Clothes
(1954)The Skin of Our Teeth
(revival, 1955)The Master Builder
(1955)The Purple Dust
(1956)I Knock at the Door
(1958)Great Day in the Morning
(1962)The Empire Builders