MADRID — Spain’s Gil Parrondo, an Academy Award winning art director for “Patton” and “Nicholas and Alexandra,” died on Saturday in Madrid. He was 95. “He had no other illness than his age,” his nephew, Oscar Parrondo, told Spanish news agency Efe.
Given to one of Spain’s last links with its cinema of the 1930s, Parrondo’s two Oscars was the largest recognition for a generation of Spaniards who worked their way up the ranks to key crew positions as Hollywood brought its big budget productions to Spain, making avail of its scenery, highly competitive prices and dictator Francisco Franco’s opposition to foreign companies repatriation of profits.
Born in Luarca in Spain’s northern Asturias on June 17, 1921, Parrondo’s big break came relatively early. He scored his first job on 1939’s “Los cuatro Robinsones,” assisting set decorator Sigfrido Burmann with whom he worked for 10 years, including on films by Spanish studio Cifesa whose patriotic historical epics were remarkable for the ambition, scale and sobriety of their sets, as if these served to emphasise the importance of the stories they framed.
Gil Parrondo worked for the first time as art director in 1951 on Antonio del Amo’s “Dia tras Día,” then headed up set decoration on Orson Welles’ 1955 “Confidential Report,” where he marvelled at how Welles achieved large visual effects with very little money. He served a further apprenticeship working in the art direction departments on a string of big-budget U.S. shoots in Spain, from Stanley Kramer’s 1957 “The Pride and the Passion,” where he secured the cannon for the shoot, to Samuel Bronston’s historical epics shot in studios just outside Madrid over 1961 to 1964, to David Lean’s 1962 “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago” in 1965, where he worked with production designer John Box.
Parrondo’s two Oscars were won with director Franklin Schaffner. He snagged a further nomination for “Travels With my Aunt,” directed by George Cukor.
But Parrondo may have been happiest working as art director/production designer with Richard Lester, a director who adored him, on 1976’s “Robin and Marian,” “Cuba” (1979) and “The Return of the Musketeers” (1989). Lester marvelled at Parrondo’s encyclopedic knowledge of the landscapes of Spain, and his lack of ego.
“You need to have production designer who is thinking: ‘What do we want out of this? How can I provide it for the director?’ And I’ve never met anyone better than Gil at doing that and with less fuss,” Lester commented in the 2012 documentary, “Gil Parrondo, desde mi ventana.”
Parrondo brought his cheery courtesy and enthusiasm to over 200 movies. In a near-80-year career, at the time of his death, he was working on “33 Days,” Carlos Saura’s upcoming movie on Picasso’s painting go “Guernica,” starring Antonio Banderas.