Bill Klages, Pioneering Television Lighting Designer and Seven-Time Emmy Winner, Dies at 97

Bill Klages, a trailblazer in the field of television lighting design and a seven-time Emmy recipient, died Sunday at his home in Santa Monica, his son, Jonathan Klages, told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 97.

Klages in 2012 became the only lighting designer inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. His six-decade career spanned the early days of black-and-white live television through the sophisticated high-definition productions of today.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

The native New Yorker lighted the Emmys, the Tonys, the Grammys and The Kennedy Center Honors as well as a range of high-profile entertainment programs that included Kraft Music Hall, My Name Is Barbra, Sills and Burnett at the Met, Baryshnikov by Tharp and The Dorothy Hamill Special.

Nominated for 22 Emmys, Klages collected his first trophy in 1974 — when he won for The Lie, an Ingmar Bergman-written telefilm that starred George Segal and Shirley Knight — and his last in 1991, when he was honored for his work on the CBS special The Magic of David Copperfield XIII: Mystery on the Orient Express.

“Lighting design is an accumulation of methods,” he said in 2012. “It’s what you think looks good. All of that is inside you, intuitively. Then, of course, there’s this bag of [technological] tricks. And sometimes, you have this revelation on your part, something nobody else has ever done before.”

William Maxwell Klages was born on May 7, 1927, in Long Beach, New York. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, earned his master’s from Columbia University and was a licensed professional engineer.

In 1948, Klages was hired by NBC to work in New York as a maintenance engineer. He soon became a video engineer in the operations department and, after a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy, debuted as a lighting director on the live dramatic series Playwrights ’56.

Employing techniques used in 1940s moviemaking, he lighted landmark shows featuring the likes of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ernie Kovacs and Perry Como.

Klages provided lighting design for the closing ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympics and the Liberty Weekend Statue of Liberty celebration in 1984. He also worked on four Republican National Conventions and for the 16,000-seat Lakewood Church in Houston.

A mentor for generations of lighting designers, he founded his own company, New Klages Inc., in 1983; conducted seminars throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe; and was a member of the International Photographers Guild as a director of photography.

He was married to Julie Rosalie Light — a daughter of Enoch Light, a classically trained violinist, dance-band leader and recording engineer, she was an associate director at NBC — from 1958 until her death in 2009. Their son is a writer, editor and musician.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter