Jaroslav “Jerry” Gebr, longtime head of the Scenic Arts Department at Universal Studios and perhaps best known as the artist who created the paintings featured in the pilot episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, has died. Gebr passed away last month in Tarzana, CA after a long illness, according to his family. He was 86. Gebr worked for some of the biggest names in directing including Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Alfred Hitchcock and George Roy Hill during his career, and also sidelined in painting portraits and copies of artworks for stars’ collections. “They’d put the originals in safe storage and hang Jerry’s versions on the wall. Nobody could ever tell the difference”, his son-in-law Kevin McMahon said.
The bulk of his work was original paintings and fine art copies for movies and TV, typically large assignments such as a full-scale reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes for 1968′s The Shoes Of The Fisherman. His paintings also appeared in films including My Fair Lady, Camelot, The Sound Of Music, Xanadu, Scarface, Batman, Star Trek, and The Princess Diaries, and he created the distinctive chapter title cards for The Sting and Dune. His TV work includes The Wild Wild West, Amazing Stories, Columbo and 24. He remained in demand as a freelancer after retiring from Universal. His commissions included portraits of stars such as Kim Novak, Orson Welles, and Julie Andrews, as well as works for the U.S. military that hang in the Pentagon.
Gebr was a decades-long member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and IATSE Local 816/850.
A native of Czechoslovakia, Gebr trained as a painter and sculptor at the Prague Academy just after World War II. He escaped the country following the 1949 Communist coup, crossing the border into Bavaria, eventually moving to Bogota, Colombia, where he painted portraits and murals on commission from the government and the Catholic Church. He came to the U.S. in the 1950s, initially creating album covers for Capitol Records artists Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Joan Baez and others. He then moved on to become a scenic designer at the Hollywood studios, based first at MGM and later at Universal.