“Star Trek” Set Decorator John M. Dwyer, Dead at Age 83

Dwyer was an awaed winning set designer for StAE TREK and other shows and movies,
{image via IMDB.com}

Oscar-nominee and Emmy-winner John M. Dwyer has passed away at the age of 83. The announcement came only just days ago in The Hollywood Reporter.  Dwyer died of complications of Parkinson’s disease, in Encinitas, CA on September 15, 2018.  He was the set designer for two TV series and six movies in Roddenberry’s Star Trek universe.  He decorated sets for 23 episodes of the original series, from the second season onwards, starting with the David Gerrold authored classic episode The Trouble with Tribbles. and continuing on with Star Trek: the Next GenerationStar Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek: Generations (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002).

While a set designers creates the design for the structure of the sets for a play, TV show or movie, a set decorator establishes the contents of the sets. In Star Trek, the set decorator’s job was to decide things like whether Spock’s cabin should be decorated with artifacts from Vulcan, like antique weaponry, his lyre, or photographs of Sarek and Amanda, or whether Captain Picard should have a tank of poisonous fish in his quarters – and then go about procuring all these various things. 

For Star Trek: the Original Series, Dwyer had to be both frugal and creative.

“In the original series we had to be really inventive, because we were dealing with stuff that nobody knew anything about,” he said in Designing the Final Frontier, a featurette on a Star Trek DVD release. “There were no space shows, and we didn’t have any money, so you had to scrounge; in effect, scrounge everything that you got.”

Dwyer once noted that his budget was usually $500 per show, so he would squirrel away money from one episode to another when he could and picked through trash to use items like packing materials and plastic coffee lids for the Enterprise and alien environments.

“I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but I keep in touch with materials that are going around,” he said in 2002. “On the original series, we were the first ones to use refractive Mylar, because it had just come out … and I went crazy with the stuff. In those days, nobody cared what you put on the set, so long as there was something that looked right. I’d take a piece of Masonite and cover it with some adhesive Mylar, put a two-by-four on the backside of it and hang it on a wall.”

Set dressing takes a simple room and makes it a unique environment. 

Dwyer also worked on Coal Miner’s Daughter, for which he was nominated for an an Oscar. Other SF credits include Terminator 2,  The Ice Pirates,the mini-series V and Misfits of Science. He shared an Emmy nomination with Walter M. Jeffries (of Jeffries Tube fame) for the episode “All Our Yesterdays.” He was nominated for the OFTA Film Award for Best Production Design for Star Trek: First Contact, He also did  set designs for The Eiger Sanction, Beverley Hills Cop, Rocky V, Patriot Games, Hollow Man and 9 1/2 Weeks, Centennial, The Gangster Chronicles, for which he won an Emmy in 1981, McHale’s Navy, Tammy, Mr. Terrific, The Young Lawyers, Kojak, Kolchak, MacGyver,and Ellery Queen and Night Gallery.

Born August 25, 1926 in Detroit, MI, Dwyer honorably served his country in the U. S. Navy during the Korean Police Action, then returned to Hollywood, where his father and grandfather before him had worked, and then studied at the  Chouinard Art Institute in L.A. and began a honing his craft at Universal Studios, where he often worked on multiple shows simultaneously.

He retired in 2002, after 45 years in show business.  He was survived by his wife Anita and his son Matthew.

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About Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children's book R is for Renaissance Faire, as well as short stories in Alternative Truths,  Swords and Sorceress #30, Supernatural Colorado, Barbarian Crowns, and Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid. Her articles have appeared on Krypton Radio's website, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.

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