Emmy-winning production designer Roy Christopher leaves lasting impact in theatre arts

Roy Christopher

By Miguel Gastelum

Roy Christopher, a Fresno State alumnus and 10-time Emmy-winning production designer and art director, died of natural causes on Feb. 2 at his home in West Hollywood. He was 85. His credits include decades of work on Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy award broadcasts.

“Our hearts go out to Dorothy, who met Roy here at Fresno State, and Roy’s brother Kenneth. Roy’s life shows that a farm boy can dream big, study hard at Fresno State, and then head to Hollywood to make his indelible artistic mark,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State. “Thanks to Roy and Dorothy’s love for Fresno State, our theatre students have crucial support to fulfill their own dreams of a degree and a career in the arts, which is a beautiful legacy. We are so honored to call Roy our alumnus.”

Born and raised in Fresno, Mr. Christopher earned fortune and fame in Hollywood. He designed over 16 Academy Awards sets, a record for any production designer, plus numerous Emmy and Tony Awards sets. In February 2004, the Art Directors Guild honored him with its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. Millions of TV viewers worldwide have seen his set designs on “Frasier,” “Becker,” “Wings,” “Murphy Brown,” “Welcome Back Kotter” and “Chico and the Man.”

Mr. Christopher also designed sets for specials starring Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Benny, George Burns, Walter Matthau and Mikhail Baryshnikov. His credits include Broadway, regional productions and PBS shows. 

A proud Fresno State alumnus, Mr. Christopher attributed part of his success to his education. 

In a 2004 Fresno State Magazine interview, he said, “The program at Fresno State was so good, and it was so highly regarded. I always tell students to pick a school with good teachers and work your butt off.” 

Mr. Christopher earned a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State in Speech Arts (now called Theatre Arts) in 1957. Following graduation, he did summer stock and acted in the Children’s Theater of the West, touring with then-girlfriend and classmate Dorothy Joyal, whose father, Dr. Arnold Joyal, served as Fresno State president from 1948 to 1964. Eventually, Mr. Christopher and Dorothy married and returned to Fresno State, where he obtained his master’s degree in Speech-Theatre Arts. In 2007 he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from Fresno State. 

Mr. Christopher always held a deep connection to the Theatre and Dance Department at Fresno State. In 1996, he and Dorothy established a theatre arts scholarship endowment. He returned to campus as a guest lecturer numerous times to encourage students to achieve their highest personal goals. In 2006 he hosted six Fresno State students for a behind-the-scenes private tour of the Oscars set he designed.

Dr. John D. Welty, Roy Christopher, and Dr. Arnold E. Joyal.
Dr. John D. Welty, Roy Christopher, and Dr. Arnold E. Joyal.

Christopher was described both as “down to earth” and a “creative genius.” His demeanor, passion and extraordinary abilities won him respect throughout the entertainment industry. He was a beloved mentor of the students, faculty and staff of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State.  Christopher is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and brother, Kenneth.

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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