Friday, June 9, 2006

Harry Oliver [1888-1973]

Harry Oliver [1888-1973] was a near-legendary Hollywood art director [twice Oscar-nominated, one of the first people ever nominated for an Academy Award]; Scrap Book a designer, showman, newspaper columnist, self-publisher, and desert character.

He lived part-time around Borrego Springs CA in the 1920s and '30s, then moved full-time to Thousand Palms CA around 1940. Here he built Old Fort Oliver and, for decades, sporadically published the DESERT RAT SCRAP BOOK archive, "The only 5-page newspaper in America, and the only one you can open in the wind."

Harry collected and promulgated some of the best lore and lies ever written about the West. His paper had a small but global following, and was cited in B.A.Botkins' classic TREASURY OF WESTERN FOLKLORE.

As an art director and set designer, Harry strongly influenced the Expressionism of F.W. Murnau [NOSFERATU, SUNRISE, TABU]. Harry's film credits include such classics as SPARROWS, 7th HEAVEN, STREET ANGEL, THE RIVER, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, SCARFACE, VIVA VILLA!, and THE GOOD EARTH. As a designer of commercial symbols [the Van De Camp Bakery windmill and the Willat Studios Witch House], his work is world-famous in Los Angeles.

As a designer of western scenes, [1936 World's Fair - Gold Gulch] and hoaxes [scattering weathered peglegs around the Salton Sea area], he was hilarious.

As a public figure, he at least has a street named after him, even though Old Fort Oliver was replaced by a mini-mart.

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