In Memoriam: Robert Fletcher

Robert Fletcher, shown here in his Country Club Plaza apartment, designed costumes and sets for stage, film, and television productions. He is perhaps best known for his work on the first four Star Trek films. (photo by Jim Barcus)

If you love “Star Trek,” George Balanchine, Orson Welles, Liza Minnelli and the “Game of Thrones,” then you love the art of famed designer Robert Fletcher. He began his career as an actor and also produced Broadway plays with the likes of Noel Coward. He often ended up designing costumes and sets for the plays he was in and eventually made that his full-time profession.

For decades, Fletcher created sets and costumes for some of the most iconic films, stage productions, television shows, operas and dance productions in the world. His work for the stage ranged from Balanchine’s ballets to Orson Welles’ version of “Othello” — which Fletcher also acted in — as well as such popular plays as “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

One of his many film successes, for which he received numerous accolades, was working with Academy Award-winning director Robert Wise in the 1970s to design the iconic sci-fi costumes for the first “Star Trek” movie. Gene Roddenberry, originator of “Star Trek,” had to approve all Fletcher’s work. Roddenberry wanted the Klingons to resemble regular people; Fletcher convinced him to accept the more lizard-like look now firmly entrenched in popular culture. Fletcher did designs for three more “Star Trek” movies after that.

He loved creating for shows that involved fantasy, and one of his final major productions was designing countless suits of armor for the hugely popular series “Game of Thrones.”

Fletcher was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1922. He and his mother were abandoned by his father, actor Leon Ames, when he was one. He nevertheless got a scholarship to Harvard, then Bennington, and served in the war. He lived primarily in New York, then Los Angeles, and finally Taos, but traveled to Europe and Asia for numerous productions, often with his husband of 65 years, dancer, choreographer and singer Jack Kauflin.

Fletcher worked often in Kansas City, designing Todd Bolender’s “Nutcracker” for the Kansas City Ballet as well as many shows for Missouri Repertory Theatre (now the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.) When Fletcher and Kauflin decided to move permanently to Kansas City five years ago, Anna Wyckoff, communications director of the Costume Designers Guild in Los Angeles, asked him why he chose to move there after living in various places around the world.

“He wanted to keep designing,” Wyckoff said. “He told me that he was retiring and was ‘only’ working on two shows. He explained that Kansas City was an artistic town, with a lot of culture, and thought he and his husband Jack would have a good life there.”

Over his career Fletcher received many awards, including the Career Achievement Award from the Costume Designers Guild in 2005 and the Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 for his set design work. His archives are now stored at Harvard University. (For more about Fletcher’s life and career, see Robert Fletcher, A Star Among Stars, Now Living in KC, March/April 2015.)

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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