Obituaries: Henry May and Richard Brinkmann


may, brinkman

Henry May, left, and Richard Brinkman

20 November 2002 |

Henry May
Henry May, an award-winning scenic designer for stage and television as well as a professor emeritus of dramatic art at Berkeley, has died at the age of 81.
May, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died Monday, Nov. 4, in a Washington, D.C. nursing home.

He designed sets and costumes, produced a Broadway play, and collaborated with the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Orson Welles, Leonard Bernstein, and Igor Stravinsky. May’s set-design efforts — known for their clear lines, impeccable detail, and symmetrical balance — enhanced the works of writers from Shakespeare and Euripides to Henrik Ibsen, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Tom Stoppard.

May also worked on ballets, classical-music concerts, public television, and operas. He designed for such choreographers as David Wood, Agnes de Mille, and José Limón.

Venues for his work included Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, as well as campus sites such as Zellerbach Hall, the Greek Theatre, Hertz Hall, and Wheeler Hall. Over a 25-year period he designed all the major theater productions and dance performances on the Berkeley campus.

May once said that set designers have three to five minutes to get their points across, after which the setting should recede.

“He didn’t have a strong, distinctive style, like a painter,” said Robert Goldsby, a professor emeritus of theater at Berkeley who worked with May. “Henry was a designer; he had to be able to sense what the director had or wanted as a central vision for the play. He did clear, beautiful designs.”

May’s daughter, Laurie Trippett, called her father “a visual thinker. He always found something worth looking at, and his designs were inspired by everything from trash heaps to glints of golden sunlight to water.”

May, who grew up in New York City, earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture in 1943 from the University of Illinois, where that he was introduced to theater by a roommate. He went on to become director of design for university productions, worked as the stage designer for a small Cape Cod theater, and spent four summers in summer stock.
After World War II, May studied scenic design at Yale University’s School of Drama. At Yale, he met Donald Oenslager, a leader in a new approach to stage design characterized by simplicity and stylization.

May won an Emmy Award in 1958 for his artistic direction of “Boswell’s Life of Johnson” on the groundbreaking cultural variety program, “Omnibus.” May said the program’s nine-year run – it aired at various times on all three major networks — proved that good drama could be commercially successful on television.

After “Omnibus” ended in 1961, May launched a freelance career that included designing commercials. But when a phone call came in offering him a teaching position at Berkeley — just as he was about to go outside his Connecticut home to shovel snow for the second time in one day — he accepted immediately.
“He was ready to make a change, and we were ready to get a good designer,” said Goldsby. May joined the department in 1962 and became chair of the Department of Dramatic Art (now the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies) in 1968, succeeding Travis Bogard.

May was on the board of the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum and a member of the prestigious Arts Club at Berkeley. During his tenure at Berkeley he was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation award, the first given to a scenic designer. He also won a Bay Area Theatre Critics Award and a West Coast Theatre Critics Award for his design work on Noel Coward’s “Tonight at 8:30.”

Following his retirement in 1991, he was an active volunteer at the UC Botanical Garden and remained an avid theatergoer.

May is survived by his daughter, Laurie Trippett; a sister, Bettina Barasch of Lido Beach, N.Y.; and one granddaughter.

For information about a memorial to be held later, contact the UDepartment of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at 642-1677.

Contributions may be made in May’s memory toward a named scholarship fund for scenic designers by contacting Teri Tuma, Yale School of Drama, P.O. Box 208244, New Haven, CT, 06520-8244.

Richard Brinkmann
Richard Brinkmann, a professor emeritus of German at Berkeley and a proponent of an international approach to the study of German, died on Nov. 2 at the age of 81.
Brinkmann, who had Parkinson’s disease, died at his home in Tübingen, Germany.

Born in Elberfeld, Germany, in 1921, Brinkmann returned from military service during World War II with severe injuries that included the loss of his right arm, as well as with a deep commitment to cultural renewal based on values not tainted by the Third Reich.

Brinkmann, who earned his Ph.D. in German literature from the University of Tübingen in 1948, considered the internationalizing of the study of German literature his primary responsibility. He belonged to a generation of Germanists who helped reshape the discipline of literary studies and intellectual history in Germany and the United States. His specialties included 19th-century German literature, Goethezeit, German romanticism, and the German novel. Brinkmann’s research focused on romanticism, expressionism, Theodore Fontane, and concepts of realism, which he wrote about in the groundbreaking book, “Wirklichkeit und Illusion” (1957).

He was best known as the meticulous editor since 1960 of the leading journal, “Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte,” which has promoted interdisciplinary criticism in the humanities for the past 75 years. As presiding officer from 1976 to 1984 of the Germanist Commission in the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, which oversees and supports major research projects and individual academic careers in Germany, he exerted tremendous influence. That organization is the German equivalent of the National Science Foundation in the United States, overseeing all research in the humanities and social sciences.

Brinkmann held joint appointments as a professor of German literature at Berkeley and at the University of Tübingen. While professor at the University of Tübingen since 1959, he also served as a visiting professor in Wellington, New Zealand; Austin, Texas; Columbia University; and UC Berkeley. He accepted a regular appointment at Berkeley in 1967 and, until his retirement in 1986, taught courses here every other year.

He is survived by two daughters, Ursula Delbrück in New Zealand and Brigitte Siepmann-Brinkmann in Germany, as well as a son, Fritz, in Germany.


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