Who’s that guy?! Wait — is that George C. Izenour? HEY! Happy Birthday, George Izenour! Today is the celebration of George’s 101st birthday!
If you don’t know who this man is and the legacy he left behind in 2007 when he passed away (July 24, 1912 — March 24, 2007), you need to do some research. George Izenour is one of our industry’s most prolific inventor/designers, and we have many theatres and theatre complexes across the country because of that man’s brain. George here was the winner of the 2004 Wally Russell Lifetime Achievement Award for his life’s work; the industry considers him one of the most important people in our business, and many consider him the Father of Modern Stage Lighting. He’s earned the title!
Mr. Izenour recalled, back in his living days: “I was born in a little town in the Beaver valley of Pennsylvania about 30 miles west of Pittsburgh; New Brighton. My father was a small electrical contractor. We moved in the third year of World War I to Ambridge, a company town closer to Pittsburgh adjacent to the Conway railway yards in 1917. In 1918, the last year of the war my father moved us to Mansfield, Ohio. I was six years old at the time and I started my formal schooling there.”
From an article at Live Design Online:
One of the most important figures in the lighting industry, George C. Izenour wrote his Master’s thesis on what was to become his first invention: the electronic lighting control system for theatre. His first job was as lighting director for the Los Angeles Federal Theatre Project. When that was dissolved in 1939, he was made a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation with the mandate to establish a laboratory dedicated to the advancement of theatre technology. This was established at Yale University and became the home base for Izenour’s long career as inventor, consultant, acoustician, professor, and author (Theatre Design 1977, Theater Technology 1988, Roofed Theaters of Classical Antiquity 1992).
His most important invention was the inverse polarized rectifier circuit for dimming and switching. After working in a war research laboratory during WWII, he completed a lighting system that was patented by Century Lighting, ushering in the modern era of stage and television lighting. In the late 1950s he consulted on Harvard’s Loeb Drama Center, the first of over 100 performing arts venues in his prolific theatre consulting career. He has been a member of numerous professional organizations and received numerous awards during the 65 years of his ongoing career.
Mr. Izenour has several patents on file with the United States Patent Office — many of these are monumental changes to the way things were done at the time, including one of my favorites, a Filtered Thyratron Control circuit:
An interesting turn in his career, Izenour also worked as a government scientist in World War II, creating proximity fuses for the military in a laboratory on Long Island:
I find it exemplary that Izenour worked at the time for the US government; it’s a shame that it was making weapons. He certainly made up for that in the remainder of his life, creating some unbelievably beautiful and functional theatre buildings and complexes. From an article at Penn State, where several of Izenour’s blueprints and mylars are currently kept:
In the laboratory, Izenour focused on developing a practical, moderately priced, remote electronic stage lighting intensity control system; he succeeded with an electronic console system for stage lighting (the world’s first practical all-electronic switching and dimming circuit) in 1947. In May 1949 he was granted patents that protected both the electronic circuitry of the system and the mechanical design of the controls. Rather than selling the patents, he negotiated an exclusive commercial license to build and exploit commercially the electronic lighting intensity control system with Century Lighting Inc. and its executive vice president Ed Kook. Izenour became Century’s field engineer as well as its systems designer. Black-and-white network television opened up opportunities for expansion in 1951 and Century negotiated for the Century-Izenour (C-I) system to be the approved method of lighting control for CBS and NBC productions. During the winter and early spring of 1948 Izenour designed and fabricated the first working scale model of the synchronous winch system, patented in 1959.
By the end of the 1950s Izenour added theater design and engineering consultant to his credentials. He participated as theater design-engineering and/or acoustical consultant in more than 100 buildings. He designed and built stage machinery for the Dallas, Texas theater center, 1959; Loeb Drama Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1960; drama center, University of South Florida, Tampa, 1961; and other multiple-use theater buildings.Izenour has published three books, Theater Design (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1977; reprint, Yale University Press, 1996), Theater Technology (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988; reprint, Yale University Press, 1996), and Roofed Theaters of Classical Antiquity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992).
To explain complex spatial relationships, Izenour and his draftsmen/graphic artists decided upon the longitudinal perspective section to capture the ambience of both stage and auditorium during performance, and orthographic isometric for structure and machinery. The Izenour Drawings of the Theater, an organized collection, came to the attention of the U.S. Information Service (USIS), the cultural branch of the Department of State. The USIS assembled a traveling exhibition of 100 of the drawings for showing throughout the world; the world premiere was held at the American Academy in Rome on 22 April 1977.
Happy Birthday, George! Thanks for contributing such an immense amount of brainpower to our industry to make it as awesome as it is today.
Check out some of George Izenour’s texts — I highly recommend it, you’ll come away from the books having seen inside the brain of a true technological genius!
Theater Technology: Second Edition – George Izenour
Roofed Theaters of Classical Antiquity — George Izenour
Innovations in Stage and Theatre Design — George Izenour
Something else that is pretty cool to check out is some of George Izenour’s patents, from Google Patents (which is an AMAZING time waster if you’re bored!). I highly recommend it!
Happy 101st birthday, Georgie!