Alexander Golitzen, the prolific and influential production designer, who received three Academy Awards in a long career that encompassed 300 movies, passed away at 97 in San Diego on July 27. The cause of death was congestive heart failure. The Moscow-born art director who fled Russia during the Revolution through Siberia and China—his family was related to the ruling Romanoffs—was nominated 14 times for the best art-direction Oscar. He won the Academy Award in 1943 for The Phantom of the Opera with John B. Goodman; Spartacus in 1960 with Eric Orborn; and To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962 with Henry Bumstead.
Golitzen was a man with “tremendous charm, kindness and talent,” Bumstead recalled. The period of greatest influence for the dapper, mustachioed production designer was the 30 years he spent at Universal, creating the plush Technicolor settings for 13 movies by director Douglas Sirk, including memorable melodramas like Written on the Wind in 1955 and the 1959 remake of Imitation of Life starring Lana Turner. His regular set decorator was Russell A. Gausman. Golitzen also worked on noir classic Touch of Evil with director Orson Welles, who insisted on adding his own scenic touch-ups. The last credit Golitzen received was for disaster-pic Earthquake in 1974, his last Academy Award nomination. His Oscar nominations began with Foreign Correspondent, (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, for which Golitzen designed the inside of a churning Dutch windmill, employed for a climactic suspense sequence. Others were musicals Flower Drum Song (1961), Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967 and Sweet Charity in 1969. And in 1970 he was nominated for Airport. Golitzen is survived by his wife Frances, 102, a son and daughter, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.