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Terence Marsh dies at 86; Oscar-winning production designer crafted look for 'Doctor Zhivago,' 'Shawshank'

Terence Marsh dies at 86; Oscar-winning production designer crafted look for 'Doctor Zhivago,' 'Shawshank'
Terence Marsh, the Oscar-winning production designer for "Doctor Zhivago," "Oliver!" and "Mary Queen of Scots," at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood in 2012. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

He transformed Spain into Russia and returned the streets of London to an era of crushing poverty and bleakness.

A decrepit electric chair — wires looping through the spine of the wooden device — added an emblem of finality to the prison cellblock he created.

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In film after film,, Terence Marsh was called on to do the impossible — transport viewers to a place that existed only in the imaginations of screenwriters and directors.

He won Oscars, acclaim and steady work for his vision as a production designer, from the Russian Revolution epic "Doctor Zhivago" to the prison drama "The Green Mile."

After battling cancer for years, Marsh died Jan. 12 at his home in Pacific Palisades. He was 86.

Marsh won Oscars for art direction on "Doctor Zhivago" and "Oliver!" and was nominated twice more for "Mary Queen of Scots" and "Scrooge."

Prolific and comfortable working with demanding editors, Marsh created the look and mood for a long list films nominated for Oscars for best picture — "Lawrence of Arabia," "A Man for All Seasons," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile" among them.

Production designer Terence Marsh created the oppressive look of the prison yard in "Shawshank Redemption."
Production designer Terence Marsh created the oppressive look of the prison yard in "Shawshank Redemption." (Michael Weinstein / Castle Rock)

Born in London on Nov. 14, 1931, Marsh was initially a draftsman at the Pinewood Studios but was lured away by production designer John Box and put to work as an assistant on "Lawrence of Arabia," a hallmark film that was nominated for 10 Oscars.

The film also cemented a friendship with director David Lean, who reached out to Marsh again when he took on another epic — "Doctor Zhivago."

Because the book had been banned in what was then the Soviet Union, the movie could not be filmed there either and Lean settled on Spain to fill in for Moscow.

So it became Marsh's task to find a location outside Madrid where he could create two distinctly different neighborhoods, one upper-class, the other distressed.

Finally, he told The Times in a 2012 interview, he ran into a builder who had stalled out on his plans to develop a large piece of land he owned.

"He had put the roads in, but hadn't yet got around to building the homes," Marsh recalled. "So we did a deal."

He employed similar ingenuity creating Victorian London inside a sound studio in Surrey, England, for "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother" and turning back the clock to the 19th Century on a London street so that it looked properly scruffy for the street urchins in "Oliver!"

In 1975 he moved to Los Angeles, where he started playing tennis with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Gene Wilder. He made films with all three and had a cameo in "Spaceballs," Brooks' parody of the original "Star Wars" trilogy and other sci-fi films of the time.

Marsh went on to work as production designer on "The Hunt for Red October," "Clear and Present Danger" and "Basic Instinct." His final movie, "Rush Hour 2," was released in 2001.

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"I was 70 and I thought maybe it was time to retire," Marsh said.

He was awarded a lifetime achievement award in 2010 from the Art Directors Guild.

Marsh is survived by his wife of 42 years, Sandra Marsh; and three daughters, Georgina, Rebecca and Jocelyn.

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