Tony Walton was one of the finest—and busiest—set and costume deisiners over the last half century. His death leaves both the theatre and film world diminished. Above, we present almost all of the Hirschfeld drawings of shows and films that Tony designed. Below, Louise Hirschfeld bids farewell to her friend.
Sidney Lumet invited Al Hirschfeld and me to our first dinner together as a married couple. It was such a happy time because that is where I met Tony Walton. He was charming, bright, and obviously adored Al. Tony’s early training was in caricature, which occupied his early days in London theater, as he made his way up a stage craft career as stage and costume designer. In fact, he began his New York theatre life as a caricaturist for Playbill while studying for the United Scenic Artists exam.
I remember another meal with Tony. There is a very special theatrical restaurant in Covent Garden called Rules. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Tony and his darling wife, Gen LeRoy in that historic place. Tony looked so perfect in the location, surrounded by all the great figures of the British Theatre. It is the Sardis of London. And he belonged there.
But he belonged here as well. He crossed the Atlantic and became one of the preeminent costume and stage designers. England’s gift to Broadway and Hollywood. His awards included an Oscar for All That Jazz and an Emmy for the television version of Death of a Salesman. His exquisite costumes and sets for Murder on the Orient Express and The Wiz were nominated as well. His Tony awards were for Pippin, House of Blue Leaves, and the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls with numerous other awards and nominations.
Tony diversified his career by directing with productions of Major Barbara, Where’s Charley and Busker Alley, as well as The Big Apple Circus Stage Show in 1999. Among his many other artistic endeavors was a family project with his first wife, Julie Andrews and their daughter Emma. He illustrated a series of marvelous children’s books they had written for Harper Collins. (If you are looking for a great introduction to the theatre for young people, I suggest their The Great American Mousical.
In 2005, a great opportunity to work with Tony arose. The Al Hirschfeld Foundation organized a series of exhibitions in London that summer. For the exhibition, Brits on Broadway at the V & A Museum, Tony designed a lovely poster that still hangs in my home today…and it still brings me joy every time I see it. He is also contributed to the companion book Hirschfeld’s British Aisles. For the portrait of Tony, his old friend, Julie Christie, wrote the following:
“We worked together on Dick Lester’s Petulia, Francois Truffaut’s Farenheit 451, and on Mike Nichols’ Uncle Vanya on Broadway for which he designed for me one of the most beautiful costumes I have ever worn..,What the Al Hirschfeld portrait captures…is Tony’s sparkling and constant enthusiasm and warmth with which he embraces all the people with whom he works.”
In the same book, here's what Tony wrote about Hirschfeld’s portrait of Twiggy:
“I have been lucky enough to collaborate with Twiggy—and costume her…including a delirious film version of The Boy Friend. After seeing her as Elvira in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, the fine director, Karel Reisz emerged from her dressing room saying ‘Ah, at last I know what it means when they refer to someone having been touched by the angels.’ I agree and Al Hirschfeld, infallibly as ever in this drawing, managed to suggest that he felt the same.”
Tony directed Twiggy in If Love Were All at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York, run by his daughter, Emma and her husband Stephen Hamilton. Al and I arrived the day before the opening. We had lunch with Twiggy and Tony. It was a riot! The sleepy town diner was dazzled by our group!
Tony Walton’s warmth and respect for theatre history shown through his personality like bright stars. Farewell dear Tony.