Paul Sylbert Dies: Oscar-Winning Production Designer & Set Decorator Was 88

Erik Pedersen

Paul Sylbert, an Oscar-winning set decorator and production designer who worked with such top directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Elia Kazan, Mike Nichols, Robert Benton and Milos Forman during his half-century career, has died. He was 88. Producer and former Movie Academy president Hawk Koch told Deadline that Sylbert, won an Academy Award for Heaven Can Wait and scored a nom for The Prince of Tides, died Saturday.

Koch said Sylbert and his twin brother Richard were among the most sought-after production designers in the business from the late 1950s through the ’90s. “Paul was one of a kind,” he said. “He was as smart and well-read as anyone I have ever come in contact with, and he was respected by all that knew him. … I will miss him.”

The Sylbert twins had been working primarily on live TV in New York when Kazan tapped them as set designers to work his 1954 pic Baby Doll. They also worked on Kazan’s prescient 1957 film A Face in the Crowd. In between, Paul Sylbert was the art director for Hitchcock’s thriller The Wrong Man (1956).

Paul Sylbert would go on to work on such films as Benton’s Bad Company (1972), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Nadine (1987); Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975); Nichols’ Biloxi Blues (1988); and two films helmed by Nichols’ former comedy partner Elaine May: Mikey & Nicky (1976) and Ishtar (1987). Sylbert’s credits also include The Drowning Pool (1975), Hardcore (1979), Blow Out (1981), Gorky Park (1983), Rush (1991), Rosewood (1997) and Conspiracy Theory (1997).

He received the Art Directors Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

The Brooklyn native also designed operas for the New York City Opera Company and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoletto, Italy. He designed as well as directed plays off-Broadway and at both the Theatron Kentrikon and Theatron Dionysus in Athens. Sylbert wrote and directed The Steagle (1971) and wrote a book about his experiences on the set called Final Cut. Recently, he had been on the faculty of the Film & Media Arts Department of Temple University in Philadelphia.

Survivors include Sylbert’s his wife Jenny and two children.

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