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Jenkins, George


Art Director. Nationality: American. Born: Baltimore, Maryland, 19 November 1908. Education: Studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1931. Family: Married Phyllis Adams, 1955; one daughter by a previous marriage, and one stepdaughter. Career: Interior designer and engineer; 1937–41—assistant to the stage designer Jo Mielziner; 1943—first Broadway play as stage designer, Early to Bed, followed by a series of plays including I Remember Mama, Lost in the Stars, The Bad Seed, and The Miracle Worker; 1946—first film as art director, The Best Years of Our Lives; 1953–54—worked for TV; art director in charge of color, CBS; consultant in theater, University of Pennsylvania; 1985–88, professor of motion picture design, University of California, Los Angeles. Awards: Academy Award, for All the President's Men, 1976.

Films as Art Director:


The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler)


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (McLeod); The Bishop's Wife (Koster)


A Song Is Born (Hawks); Enchantment (Reis)


Little Women (LeRoy) (uncredited); Roseanna McCoy (Reis)


At War with the Army (Walker)


The San Francisco Story (Parrish)


Monsoon (Amateau)


The Miracle Worker (A. Penn) (co)


Mickey One (A. Penn)


Up the Down Staircase (Mulligan); Wait until Dark (Young)


No Way to Treat a Lady (Smight); The Subject Was Roses (Grosbard)


Me, Natalie (Coe)


The Angel Levine (Kadar)


The Pursuit of Happiness (Mulligan); Klute (Pakula)


1776 (Hunt)


The Paper Chase (Bridges)


The Parallax View (Pakula)


Funny Lady (Ross); Night Moves (A. Penn)


All the President's Men (Pakula)


Comes a Horseman (Bridges); The China Syndrome (Bridges)


Starting Over (Pakula)


Power (Shear)


Rollover (Pakula); The Postman Always Rings Twice (Rafelson)


Sophie's Choice (Pakula)


The Dollmaker (Petrie—for TV)


Dream Lover (Pakula)


Orphans (Pakula)


See You in the Morning (Pakula)


Presumed Innocent (Pakula)


By JENKINS: article—

Film Comment (New York), May/June 1978.

On JENKINS: article—

Skoop, August-September 1976.

* * *

During a 45-year career that began with the prestigious The Best Years of Our Lives, George Jenkins specialized in creating environments which define "realism." This "realism" most obviously manifests itself in the numerous sets which reflect actual locations: Louisa May Alcott's childhood home for Little Women, the fifth-floor newsroom of the Washington Post for All the President's Men, and a Harvard law classroom for The Paper Chase. Less obviously, but just as convincingly, Jenkins could recreate a lost or fictional setting by combining various sources of information: visiting many small newspapers for The Parallax View, locating a Victorian house that resembled Helen Keller's home in Georgia for The Miracle Worker, adapting the layouts of several nuclear power plant control rooms for The China Syndrome (which earned him an Academy Award nomination), and condensing World War II concentration camp photographs for Sophie's Choice. Whatever the situation, his designs concretely visualize and authenticate a film's space and time.

Although best known for transforming the everyday into a gritty screen equivalent, Jenkins also successfully accomplished more colorful or idiosyncratic works. While still sharply delineating a film's setting and always matching design to story, he also moved the "real" into purely cinematic style. Jenkins created the bright musical worlds of 1776 and Funny Lady; the cool, sleek urban settings of Rollover and Power; the claustrophobic working-class homes of The Subject Was Roses and The Postman Always Rings Twice; and the dark, frightening visions of Wait until Dark and No Way to Treat a Lady. Two of the three films he designed for Arthur Penn best demonstrate this facet of his talent. Mickey One established and maintained the black-and-white location of a surrealistic city, continually threatening to disappear into the dark and fog of a nightmare. Jenkins said it was an opportunity to do sets where there really weren't any sets at all. Night Moves employed vivid primary colors to transform the apparently tedious detective work of the protagonist into an interior reevaluation of his life. The film's colors are not necessarily symbolic, but their placement in an otherwise dreary environment generates a disturbing space of doubt and confusion. More recently, Presumed Innocent's courtroom and law offices seem almost banal, but their darkness and heavy furnishings generate an ominous claustrophobia that perfectly reflects Rusty Savage's predicament.

Jenkins prided himself on his thorough research, precision, and an exacting use of props and set decorations. For example, he shipped three months of news-desk paperwork from the Washington Post to Hollywood for All the President's Men. This fastidious attention to detail rewarded him with an Oscar. Jenkins also firmly believed in filmmaking as a collaborative art, consulting with director, actor, and cinematographer before drafting a final design. This attitude explains why he designed ten films for Alan J. Pakula, a director known for cinematic "texture" (on all levels). In a similar (and typical) manner, Jenkins worked closely with Jane Fonda on Klute as she decided which props of her character's apartment she would use. Acutely aware that his sets must pass through the eyes of the cinematographer, he designed with the cinematographer in mind. The first to construct sets of normal size and perspective, he removed some of the cinematographer's bothersome responsibilities.

Jenkins worked with many first-level cinematographers: Gregg Toland (The Best Years of Our Lives), Charles Lang (Wait until Dark), Nestor Almendros (Sophie's Choice), Ghislain Cloquet (Mickey One), and Sven Nykvist (Starting Over, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Dream Lover). His six collaborations with Gordon Willis (Klute, The Paper Chase, The Parallax View, All the President's Men, Comes a Horseman, and Presumed Innocent) proved to be amongst his (and Willis's) finest works.

—Greg S. Faller

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