Academy Award nominee John Corso remembered

By Joseph Slacian

John Corso, a Wabash High School graduate who went on to become one of the leading production designers in Hollywood, has passed away.

Mr. Corso passed away Oct. 9 at Parkview Huntington Hospital. He was 89.

A 1948 WHS graduate, Mr. Corso was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in the Loretta Lynn biopic “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” He also won an Emmy Award for his work on “Tales of the Gold Monkey.”

Mr. Corso attended Indiana University and received a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from UCLA in Los Angeles, Calif.

He worked as production designer for several Alfred Hitchcock movies, and several John Hughes films including “Uncle Buck,” “Ferris Bueller's Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science,” “16 Candles,” and “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” He also worked as art director on television shows “Ironside” and “Columbo” and worked with Sylvester Stallone in “Paradise Alley” and on “Xanadu,” with Gene Kelly as the director.

Following his retirement, he returned to Wabash where he was active in a number of local organizations, including the Wabash Area Community Theater and the Wabash County Historical Museum, where he helped design the facility’s train set layout.

“John Corso’s legacy will live on at the museum through each guest that enjoys the model train display he meticulously designed and built on the second floor of the museum,” Museum President and CEO Mitch Figert said. “John’s eye for design and detail was instrumental in the creation of our current facility during his role as a board member and volunteer.

“We will miss seeing John operate the train set during school field trips, hearing his stories from his time in Wabash and Hollywood and his humble personality. Many will never fully understand the impact John made on this community and we were blessed to have known him and share his love for history and the community.”

WACT President Bev Vanderpool said Mr. Corso was “instrumental in the reconstruction of Wabash Area Community theater in themed 1990s.”

“Being a Hollywood set designer, John built every set as if you were seeing it through a camera lens. Even though the closest audience member was over 60 feet away, when making something in the background as simple as a bookcase, John Made Sure the set building team took the time to individually cut out and glue each book into the bookshelf to make it look real. No detail ever escaped his critical eye.

“John was a very gifted artist, set designer and friend. He was a delight to all who knew him. Wabash Area Community Theater is very proud that he is part of our history and will continue to enjoy and build on the legacy he left behind.”
Two of the local productions he worked on were Susan Jones’ musicals “Wait ‘til You Get to Wabash” and “Light Up the Town.” Both sets were donated to WACT.

“John Corso was one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve known,” Jones said. “He was gentle, kind, smart, talented and very generous.

“In 2003, when the committee that was producing my first play, “Wait ’til You Get to Wabash,” needed someone to design the set, they decided to start by asking the best. So we called John and he agreed to read the script. The next day he called and said, ‘I’m going to build you a canal boat!’”

Mr. Corso and two of his friends, Dennis Conliff and Chuck Dwyer, spent three months in Duke Davis’s factory building a beautiful 39-foot canal boat that was strong enough to support a dancing cast of 35, Jones continued. The boat had two decks and the front pushed out, split and opened up to allow the audience to see the action below deck.

“Once again, in 2016 we asked John to design the set for my new play, ‘Light Up the Town,’” she continued. “And once again he and Dennis Conliff agreed and started building. Dennis passed away of cancer during the process and Bill Eppley became John’s co-builder. The set was beautiful in every detail and functional.

“His gifts of his time and talent to me and to the city of Wabash that he loved were priceless. He shall be missed very much.”

Mr. Corso is survived by a brother, a sister, a nephew and a niece.

Funeral services were Tuesday morning, Oct. 15, at St. Bernard Catholic Church. Grandstaff-Hentgen Funeral Service handled arrangements.

Posted on 2019 Oct 15