Otis M Riggs Jr.
PFC in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co D, 1st Platoon
ASN#11053483 Casualty: Wounded
Born 1914 in MA, Died 1977
County of residence at enlistment: Essex County, MA
Other residence(s): Beverly, MA in 1942
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: designers
College education after the war: Boston art school; Yale Drama
Otis Riggs was born on January 20, 1914 in Gloucester, MA. His father was head of the science department at Beverly High School, and young Otis grew up in Beverly.
At the age of 14, he apprenticed in a Gloucester summer theater and was hooked. He studied for three years at a Boston art school, and then pursued a career in set design. One of his first professional gigs involved working with a company of actors from the Beverly MA area who performed as the "Notchland Players" in Crawford Notch, NH in the summer of 1934.
He eventually got a job with Walter Wanger, a theatre and film producer, and did some sets for him in Los Angeles for both film and live theatre. An article in the LA Times in 1936 says that the 22-year-old was designing a set for an anti-war drama called Bury the Dead, to be produced by Wanger at the Belasco Theatre in LA.
At the time he registered for the draft, on October 16, 1940, he listed his profession as self-employed and his place of work as New York. He enlisted in the Army on June 13, 1942, stating his profession as designer.
In March, 1945, towards the end of his stint with the Ghost Army, he was hit by an artillery shell in the thigh, and spent several months in a military hospital.
After the war he attended Yale Drama School for a year, and then did a variety of freelance work, including set design for summer theatres in Cohasset MA and Mt. Kisco, NY, and a design for Measure for Measure at the Stratford Theatre Festival in 1946.
A review of his 1946 design for Brief Moment in Cohasset, penned by John W. Riley of the Boston Globe, says that "one of the nicest things about the present production is the elegant set designed by Otis Riggs. It's a penthouse living room. . . . I'd like to own it."
In 1947 or 1948, he took a job at NBC TV where he would continue to work for the rest of his career. He designed sets for the big, splashy theatrical productions that were such an important part of early television--Fireside Theatre, Philco Playhouse, Producers' Showcase, and Hallmark Theatre. (He also did the design for some CBS productions through the Dupont Show of the Month.) These included versions of A Christmas Carol, Cinderella, Ethan Frome, I Don Quixote, Macbeth, Our Town, and Treasure Island.
He was also the set designer for Mr. Peepers in 1952-53, and for The Match Game in 1962-63.
In a New York Times article in 1951, he described his World War II camouflage experience as "very valuable training for a TV designer," since budget limitations often involved his scouting the materials in the NBC warehouse, and then disguising those pieces with paint, moldings, curtains, cardboard cutouts, and "friendly" lighting. "I'm not a scene-designer any more," he said. "I'm an architectural ad-libber."
Macbeth was one of the first major color TV productions in 1954. A newspaper article at the time describes Riggs as "one of TV's top-flight set designers and art directors," and says that "this color business has Otis Riggs worried. He has designed a castleful of color--nice, subdued, castley color--and it will be one of the grandest castles Brooklyn has ever seen. But how will it look at home? Ah, there's the rub! . . . 'I tremble at what the colors will look like at home,' Riggs says. 'Once I saw a color demonstration, the same show on 10 sets. There was a different shade on each set, and these were engineers tuning them in.'"
Macbeth's castle, which cost more than $15,000 to build (about $145,000 in today's dollars), was one of the most elaborate sets ever planned for TV at that point, and included a throne room, banquet hall, bedrooms, courtyard, and an entrance gate that collapsed on cue when hit with a battering ram.
His sets for a 1960 production of Treasure Island, starring Hugh Griffith and Boris Karloff, included the deck and interior cabins of a 1740 English sailing ship, two English taverns, a fortress, and a cave. In a newspaper article describing how much work that set was, Riggs commented that he was grateful for the demanding work because "without such demands I'd be out of a job and cheated of the greatest fun I can think of--designing sets."
Outside of his television work, he also did freelance design for the New York theatre, including a 1953 production of The Trip to Bountiful, starring Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint.
Riggs was a three-time Emmy winner. His first Emmy was for his role as art director/set designer for a 1955 musical version of Our Town. The production, which starred Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, and Eva Marie Saint, also won Emmys for the writer, director, leading actress Saint, composers Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen for their song "Love and Marriage," and arranger Nelson Riddle.
At some point in the mid to late 1960s, he took over as Art Director for NBC's daytime soap opera Another World. Riggs is said to have changed the way soap opera sets were done once color was introduced. Prior to that, the sets often involved two chairs against a black curtain, much like a stripped down stage production. According to a 1977 syndicated column entitled "Soap Opera Report," the 35 plus sets Riggs designed for Another World were, "among the most varied and stunning of any daytime serial."
He won two daytime Emmys in the 1970s for his work on Another World.
He died on May 4, 1977, and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Gloucester MA.
1936 set design article in Los Angeles Times
1940 draft registration
1942 enlistment record
1945 WW2 hospital admission files
1946 set design article in Boston Globe
1951 New York Times article with biographical details
1954 set design article in Lansing State Journal (MI)
1959 set design article in Hayward CA Daily Review
1959 set design article in North Adams Transcript (MA)
1960 set design article in Fort Lauderdale News (FL)
1977 set design article in the Kaplan Herald (LA)
1977 VA death record
1977 Find a Grave record
1977 death notice in NY Daily News
1979 article in NY Times that credits him with changing the way soap operas were designed
Entry in imdb database