Memorial Spaceflights

Harold and Lillian Michelson



Filmmaker, Storyboard Artist, Art Director, and Production Designer


Harold Michelson, embodying unparalleled integrity, decency, and tenderness, ventured into the Golden Age of Hollywood. Rising from a humble beginning as an apprentice illustrator, he evolved into a sought-after storyboard artist and later flourished as an art director and production designer, securing two Academy Award nominations along the way.

Born in the heart of New York on February 15, 1920, Harold's life was a mix of challenges, artistic pursuits, and trailblazing creativity. From his early days at the Bureau of Printing to taking flight as a bombardier navigator during the haunting days of World War II, Harold showcased remarkable character. Post-war, his artistic aspirations led him to illuminate the pages of magazines and create imaginative movie posters.

The grandeur of Hollywood beckoned, and Harold responded. His genius as a storyboard artist graced classics like The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, The Birds, Marnie, The Graduate, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Fly, and Throw Momma from the Train, among a multitude of others.

Who could forget that iconic image from The Graduate, of Dustin Hoffman juxtaposed against Anne Bancroft’s seductive leg? A stroke of Harold's brilliance.

Collaborating with the renowned director Robert Wise on West Side Story, Harold transitioned from storyboarding to art direction. However, when Wise invited him to be the production designer for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Harold confessed to his wife Lillian, “I've never really been a Trekkie. I've barely watched the series.” Lillian, not only a cherished Hollywood film researcher and owner of the iconic Lillian Michelson Research Library but also a passionate Trekkie, responded, "Harold, think about it. This whole project is like you inventing gadgets. You're entering a different world. You get to be the chief inventor, creating any gadget you can dream up." Excitedly, Harold responds, “Gadgets? I get to make gadgets?!” True to Lillian's belief, Harold's exceptional design talent shone through in the reimagined, sleek, and captivating USS Enterprise for the 1979 film adaptation – the first feature film of the Star Trek franchise.

This groundbreaking work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture earned Harold his first Academy Award nomination. His second Oscar nomination came for his art direction on the 1983 movie, Terms of Endearment. Harold also served as the production designer on Johnny Got His Gun and History of the World: Part I.

Working with legendary actor and director Mel Brooks, Harold's creative wit shone brightly. Brooks once said of him, "Harold Michelson could see what you were doing, and he knew -- without interfering too much and costing you any money -- how you could improve it, how you could make it a little better. That was the genius of Harold Michelson.” Brooks further recalled, “For Spaceballs, I had helmets in mind, but it was Harold who suggested, 'Why don’t you put balls on their heads?' When I asked why balls, he replied, 'So they’re spaceballs.' It was simple, logical, brilliant stuff like that. Harold Michelson came up with the nuances that made a scene work."

While Harold received prestigious accolades, including the Art Directors Guild's Lifetime Achievement Award and the Outstanding Achievement in Production Design Award from the Hollywood Film Festival, his heart always remained with his family. To his devoted wife Lillian, his anchor and muse, and to his sons Alan (who faced autism during a time it was misconstrued as psychological rather than organic), Eric, and Dennis, as well as his grandsons Luca, Romeo, and Ulysses, Harold was the embodiment of love, wit, and inspiration.

Lillian held steadfast belief in Harold. Her fierce determination led them to overcome challenges and defy doubters. Danny DeVito, a close family friend and collaborator, described them as “Two peas in a pod.” From Miami to the Golden Coast, they eloped, dreaming together, and building a life of love and resilience. Their profound love story caught the eye of Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Daniel Raim, who immortalized their journey in the touching documentary feature Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story. This film not only sheds light on their personal bond but also their significant contributions to the world of cinema.

Their love story was an inspiration, mirrored in the tender notes and creative artistic tributes Harold created for Lillian over the decades. If the world at large didn't sing their praises, the legends of the animation industry did, immortalizing their legacy in the royal characters of Shrek 2 as King Harold and Queen Lillian.

In 2007, at the age of 87, Harold passed on, leaving behind a legacy rich in artistry and dedication.

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