Franne Lee (1941- ) is a costume and production designer for theater and film, as well as a producer and visual artist. This collection contains designs, correspondence, and other materials related her production designs from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. Also included are materials for original projects on which she collaborated.
Biographical/historical: Franne Lee was born Franne Newman in the Bronx, New York, on December 30, 1941. An early fascination with the arts would lead to a life-long career as a professional artist, one noted for her innate creativity and sense of irreverence. She has said, "When I was a little girl, I would go to my dad's workshop and pick up discarded stuff from the floor and tables â€¦ I played with them, glued them together, painted them, and furnished my doll house. I was a junker from an early age." She studied art at the University of California, Berkeley, and spent a summer at City College New York, with the intention of becoming a painter. While studying for her M.F.A. in painting at the University of Wisconsin, Franne Lee was recruited to create sets for the theater department. She fell in love with the theater and switched to set and costume design. Franne Lee married Ralph Sandler, than an English professor at the University of Wisconsin, in 1961. A daughter, Stacy, was born in 1962, and a son, Geoffrey, was born in 1964. The marriage ended in 1967.
Franne Lee's professional career began in Philadelphia's Theatre of the Living Arts with productions of Harry Noon and Night (1969) and A Line of Least Existence (1970), during which she met Eugene Lee, the set designer, with whom she lived and worked for the next ten years. Together they designed the Manhattan Project's highly acclaimed production of Alice in Wonderland (1970), directed by Andre Gregory, for which they shared the 1971 Drama Desk Award for most promising new designer. Next followed a production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Edward Bond's Saved (1970). The Lees began dividing their time between New York and Rhode Island, where they worked with the Trinity Square Repertory Company. After a year in Iran and Paris working with Peter Brook and Jean Monod, the Lees returned to Rhode Island and Andre Gregory's Manhattan Project to design Endgame (1972). Next came Dude (1972) at the Broadway Theatre in New York. The Lees' son, William Tuttle Lee, was born in 1973.
It was the Lees' collaborations with director Harold Prince for Candide (1974) which brought them fame and acclaim, including Tony Awards for costume and set design. From 1974 through 1978, Franne Lee designed costumes for Love for Love and Gabrielle (1974), The Skin of Our Teeth (1975), Ashmedai (1976) at the New York City Opera (also with Harold Prince), and Girl of the Golden West at the Chicago Civic Opera (1978). During this time, the Lees ventured into television, as the original designers of Saturday Night Live, for which they worked from 1975 through 1980. Franne earned an Emmy for set and costume design, and is remembered for such iconic outfits as the Killer Bees and the Coneheads. In addition, the Lees enjoyed another successful collaboration with Harold Prince in his Broadway production of Sweeney Todd (1979).
The Lees divorced in 1980 but collaborated occasionally on projects such as the television film version of Sweeney Todd. Franne continued to work in theater and television, and branched into film. Productions from the 1980s to 1990s include The Mooney Shapiro Songbook (1981), Shel Silverstein's Wild Life (1983), three one-act plays by Elaine May, David Mamet, and Shel Silverstein (1983) for Chicago's Goodman Studio, Streetheat (1985), The Paul Simon Special, and Edith Wharton specials for PBS, and Comedy Zone (1988). Her film work includes John Sayles' Baby It's You (1982), Al Pacino's The Local Stigmatic (1992) and Chinese Coffee (1997), and Sweet Nothing (1993). Franne also designed several music videos, including the Harlem Shuffle (1986) with the Rolling Stones, and created the sets for Suzanne Vega's Days of Open Hand Tour. Franne moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1995, and became more involved in television, designing Sherman Oakes for Showtime and Roseanne for King World. In 1998 she moved to Nashville and began working on local music videos, commercials, and theater.
Franne Lee's design style reflects her fertile imagination, incorporating vintage items with odds and ends, resulting in highly detailed, sophisticated, witty pieces. She is currently a board member at Plowhaus, an artists' cooperative based in Nashville, Tennessee, where she continues nurturing her love of art.
Content: The collection contains correspondence, professional papers, and designs related to Franne Lee's work as an award-winning costume and production designer between 1969 and 1997. Production notes and other materials relating to projects on which Lee worked during this period make up about half of the collection, with the rest consisting of designs. The strengths of this collection are the complete costume bibles for Sweet Nothing (1993), the final colorized costume designs with swatches illustrating fabrics and textures for shows such as Candide (1974) and Eating Raoul (1992), large-scale costume plots and set designs, inspiration boards and elevations for various shows, and Lee's correspondence with long-time friends director Harold Prince and producer Bobby Geisler. Of special interest might be the extensive paperwork for Bowling for Horror, a proposed cable television series starring Brian Doyle-Murray, for which only the pilot episode was produced, and which provides insight into the many details involved in developing a show, of which costume design is one component. Also included are many initial pencil sketches, rough costume sketches, set renderings, clippings, programs, a sketchbook, a miniature model of a set, and an autographed vinyl album of Emo Philips' comedy show. This collection provides insights into Lee's working relationships, as well as her method of developing designs and her system of organizing material.