ADG Perspective

November-December 2015

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86 P E R S P E C T I V E | N OV E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 5 milestones EDWARD HABIT 1924 – 2015 by Lockie Koon, Scenic Artist One day, about ten years ago, Eddie Habit, the man who had been the head of the Scenic Department at ABC for more than fifty years, pulled an immense English flogging brush out of his desk and handed it to me. This was the passing of the torch, acknowledging that I was now the department head for ABC Scenic. This symbolic gesture was profound, and I was deeply honored. I had met Eddie as a child. My father, Charles Koon, was the Production Designer for The Lawrence Welk Show and had worked with Eddie for years. Growing up, I knew Eddie Habit as a legend. Of Lebanese heritage, from Uniontown, PA, he was a 5'4" macho giant of a man. People said his true loves—in this order—were cigars, horse racing, cards, gambling and women, and yet he was one of the first Scenic bosses to hire women. He fought in WWII, seeing service as a combat infantry rifleman in Germany, the Ardennes and the Rhineland campaigns. After the war, he earned a Bachelor of Professional Arts degree from Art Center College. His first job in the industry was as a shopman at Triangle Studio for Phil Riaguel, who was in charge of the Scenic work for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. He worked there for three seasons, painting Peter Pan and Kismet among others. By 1963, he was at CBS Studios where he was soon promoted to journeyman based on the work he did for Playhouse 90. In the following years, he worked off and on at Paramount Studios, painting for Rear Window (1954) and The Ten Commandments (1956); and at Warner Bros., working again for Phil Riaguel on A Star Is Born (1954), King Richard the Lionhearted (1954) and other large productions. He painted for John Coakley at 20th Century Fox, and had a long run on such productions as The Robe (1953), Daddy Long Legs (1955) and The King and I (1956). At RKO, Eddie did ninety percent of the Scenic work on the Oscar ® -nominated Around the World in Eighty Days (1956). Producer Mike Todd and the designers, Ken Adam and James Sullivan, arranged a full-time station wagon and driver to escort him to wherever any Scenic work was to be done. He painted Greek figures in battle on the film's signature thirty-six-foot-high balloon. Besides RKO, he painted a theater front and a backing at MGM. At Fox, he painted a faded dragon on a Chinese junk and decorations on an elephant. When Around the World in Eighty Days ended, he was appointed head of the Scenic Department at RKO. A movie with Frank Sinatra was started. Three weeks into the movie, all the departments were summoned onto a stage and were told that Howard Hughes, who owned RKO, had sold the Studio to Desilu Productions. Everyone was dismissed at the end of the week. To fill in, Eddie went to work at Grosh Studio for Jimmy McCann, painting on a backing for Guys and Dolls (1955), and another for Oklahoma which were done at the Shrine Auditorium. He worked on four projects for Disneyland: Snow White, Peter Pan, Mr. Toad's Ride, and a mural before Disneyland opened in 1955. He did a stint at ABC as a casual, and soon was put on staff. In 1957, he was promoted to department head, a job he would hold for half a century. There were just three Scenic Artists then, but within a month, new projects began to arrive. From The Lawrence Welk Show on, ABC grew at a rapid pace. Over his years there, he supervised hundreds of specials and series, from The Hollywood Palace to Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis and Ernie Kovacs; game shows included The Dating Game, Let's Make a Deal and Family Feud; sitcoms, too, such as Barney Miller, Welcome Back, Kotter and Benson. All this was slotted in between the Emmy Awards ® , the Country Music Awards and thirty-five years of Oscar shows. In 1989, I asked him for a job. I didn't use my dad or anyone, I just needed a job and was hired as a shop boy washing buckets. He was always a fair and honest man bringing many people into Scenic Art and giving them a chance. He gave me a chance, too. I worked for twenty-five years starting from the bottom and never thought I would be his equal. He is survived by his sons, Ed Habit Jr. and Andrew Habit, a daughter who kept his household going in later years, and Craig Grady, his stepson. He could be a hard-ass, he was feisty and a true character, but very generous and fair at the same time. He will be missed. Above: A pen-and-ink sketch of Eddie Habit, drawn in the paint shop break room at ABC Television Center in Hollywood by Scenic Artist Angel Esparza.

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