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Stage is set for a dynasty

Times Staff Writer

The late Lewis Creber, his son William and grandson Ken were quite literally drawn into the film business.

* Lewis Creber, who died in 1966, began working as an art director at 20th Century Fox in the 1930s. His credits include “Kentucky,” “State Fair,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Wing and a Prayer” and “Father Knows Best.”

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* William Creber, 72, is a noted art director and production designer who is a three-time Academy Award nominee for “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” and who also worked on “Planet of the Apes,” “Justine,” “The Detective” and “Islands in the Stream.”

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* Ken Creber, 44, is an art director currently working on the Lifetime medical drama, “Strong Medicine.” Previous credits include such TV series as “Melrose Place” and “Felicity.”

Tonight William Creber is scheduled to receive the Richard Sylbert Outstanding Achievement in Production Design Award at the Hollywood Film Festival Gala Awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Relaxing recently on the set of “Strong Medicine,” William and Ken Creber talked about their relationship and their craft.

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Family business

William Creber: The first set I remember, I was 5 years old. It was a Ritz Brothers movie. It was out in the Malibu hills and I remember being on the set and the Ritz Brothers trying to make me laugh.

[Years later], I was going to be an architect and I enlisted into the Navy in the Korean War, and when I got out I had been retrained in electronics. By then I was married and my dad kept saying, ‘Before you go to [work] at Hughes Aircraft, you should call Fox and see if there is an opening.’ I said, ‘That’s not me anymore.’

A couple of weeks later I got a phone call from the chief draftsman offering me a job as an apprentice draftsman. It was pretty good pay compared to anything else at the time. The minute I was there I had kind of an affinity for it. You were able to go from the drafting room onto the sets and watch the directors work in the shadows.

We would go to the music stage and they had an 80-piece, in-house orchestra and we would watch them record ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from ‘South Pacific.’

There would be a couple of folding chairs and my buddy and I would just sit there and listen to the orchestra. You were in a real factory when this stuff was happening. Century City was entirely a movie lot when I went to work there.

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Ken Creber: I was exposed to it a lot, and growing up [my dad] always seemed to enjoy his work and made a really good living doing it. He always seemed to love going to work. I had an opening and a foot-in-a-door kind of thing, which made it a little bit easier, but you still have to do the job.

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Movies vs. TV

KC: Television is always different. The projects are pretty short-term and every show is different. It moves fast.

Movies and television have their own qualities and challenges.

With features you have more time to think stuff through and you have more money so you can do a little bit nicer work usually. There is a lot of instant gratification on television.

I get a piece of paper with a rough drawing on it Monday and by Thursday we are shooting in an alley in the parking lot. The downside is you are working quickly all the time and you are rushing most of the time and you don’t get to think some of the problems through.

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Working together

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WC: We love to work together.

KC: We worked on the MGM studio tour down in Florida doing the theme park.

WC: We had a project when we were building the theme park. We had this device I had invented and we had it built and Ken kept saying, ‘Don’t take the low bid to get it built.’ We did take the low bid. It looked fine, but it broke all the time.

KC: It was a peddle balloon contraption and the chains always fell off and the pulleys kept breaking.

WC: The minute it broke, he walked by me and said, ‘low bid.’ We have a good time. I wish it was more often.

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The legends

WC: I worked with George Cukor on ‘Justine.’ I am proud of that picture. It was never accepted [when it was released]. It had two directors. The first was Joseph Strick who had just done ‘Ulysses’ when I was assigned to it. Apparently the studio lost faith in him and they brought in George Cukor to finish it. George Cukor had this sense of telling the story and the sets became much more expanded. We did stuff that was outrageous, but it all got on film.

Franklin Schaffner -- we became great friends. I did “Planet of the Apes,” “Islands in the Stream” and a picture of Pavarotti, “Yes, Giorgio,” which was probably one of my favorite all-time films to make -- the sets and locations in Rome, San Francisco, New York and Boston. We were all over the place filming it. It was a logistical nightmare, but it was really fun.

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Favorite films

WC: Probably the ones that gave me the most fame -- “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno” and “Planet of the Apes.” They were just great jobs to do.


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