David Leonard Graden got an early start on theater life.
When he was 5, he was introduced to the stage by his aunt in Two Harbors, Minnesota. After attending the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Graden began working on what would be a long and successful career of costume and set design on Broadway, television and film.
Graden designed the costumes and sets for the original production of Snoopy in San Francisco in 1975, on Broadway and in London in 1983, and for the show’s revival in 2004. His career also included costume design for the West Coast premier of P.S. Your Cat Is Dead starring Sal Mineo, the Broadway musical The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall and the Broadway play Strider.
Graden, who lived in Biscayne Park and was working on costume designs for a new play co-written by his husband, died on May 24 at age 71.
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Graden met Broadway producer Arthur Whitelaw, his life partner of 43 years, while working on P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. Whitelaw was producing the show when the original costume designer backed out of the project. Graden was suggested to fill in.
“The day we did our first preview we had dinner, and we never parted after that,” Whitelaw said. “It was the most wonderful, fulfilling, romantic affair you could ever imagine.”
Graden and Whitelaw married three years ago.
Off Broadway, Graden designed the costumes for God Bless You Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut and the hit musical The Taffetas. He recently designed the costumes for the Florida premier of A Taffeta Wedding. Before his death he was designing the costumes for a new play with music Letters From Camp."
He also made a mark on TV shows, including costume design for NBC’s Sanctuary of Fear starring Barnard Hughes, and PBS’s Eccentricities of a Nightingale starring Blythe Danner and Frank Langella. His motion picture credits include The Bell Jar starring Julie Harris.
Graden also was staff designer for the Mark Taper Forum and Center Theater Group in Los Angeles and was associate designer for Disney on Ice.
When he wasn’t at his designer table, Graden spent time painting, gardening, and reading. Whitelaw describes him as a man who loved to laugh.
“He had this wonderment, a little kid in him,” Whitelaw said. “We was sort of like Peter Pan in a way.”
Graden would have been 72 on July 7. He died of lung disease at his Biscayne Park home in his husband’s arms and surrounded by their pets. A service was held on Saturday. Graden is survived by his husband and close friends.