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In Memoriam: Joseph N. Tawil

Joseph N. Tawil

Joseph N. Tawil, a major figure in the lighting industry for several decades, died November 17; he was 84.

A native of Brooklyn, Tawil attended Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, whose graduates include lighting designer Imero Fiorentino. His college classmates at Carnegie Tech included fellow designers Jules Fisher and Roger Morgan. He moved to New York to start a lighting design career but, after a stint in the Army, joined Kliegl Brothers, where, by his own admission, he became fascinated by the business end of the lighting industry.

Leaving Kliegl, Tawil joined Century Lighting, where, thanks to the influence of George Gill (later the founder of Stage Equipment and Lighting in Miami), he began to work in the television lighting market. He followed Gill to the lighting control manufacturer Colortran, where he started working with clients in the film industry. Tawil became president of Colortran in 1969. "We were really innovative at Colortran," he told the magazine Entertainment Design in 1999. "We really turned the industry upside down in terms of how it functioned." One example of a cutting-edge Colortran product would be the Mini-Crab, a lightweight camera dolly, designed to deal with increasing mobility of film production.

In 1975, concluding that Berkey, Colortran's parent company, was not supportive of its growth, Tawil left to start his own firm The Great American Market. The company pioneered the wholesale manufacture of off-the-shelf patterns at a time when such products only existed in customized form and were costly and time-consuming. This was the first step toward positioning The Great American Market as a leading maker of lighting accessories. Next came Gelatran, the first deep-dyed polyester gels, designed to work with then-new tungsten-halogen lamps. Another key product was The Great American Scene Machine, a device that marked a significant step forward in projection technology. With the product, Tawil invaded the concert market, first with Barry Manilow, then The Rolling Stones, Air Supply, Cat Stevens, and many others. A restless innovator with an eye for the next great idea, Tawil continued to market new products. These included the TwinSpin double pattern rotator, the Colormax color scroller, and BlackWrap, for masking light leaks and concealing cabling. Even so, GAM may have been best-known for its long-running ad campaign in which top lighting designers picked their favorite GAM color; participants included Ken Billington, Marcia Madeira, Anne Militello, Richard Ocean, and Lee Rose, among many others.

A Fellow of USITT and an associate in the American Society of Cinematographers, Tawil published dozens of articles about lighting. He was a frequent speaker at universities and the International Photographers Guild on the subject of color measurement.

Gamproducts, the renamed Great American Market, was purchased by Rosco in 2013. It continues to exist as a division of Rosco, with many of Tawil's innovations still in wide circulation.

Tawil is survived by his wife, Grazyna; four brothers; four children; and two grandchildren.

If you want to contribute your own memories and or photos, please send them to celebratingjoetawil@gmail.com. Please include a caption for any photos. Use the same address if you would like to be notified about future celebrations of Tawil's life. Notes of condolence can be sent to Grazyna Tawil and The Tawil Family, 16742 Calle de Catalina, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272. In lieu of flowers the family suggests that you consider making a donation in Joe's honor to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, www.stjude.org/donate/donate-to-st-jude.html, or one of Tawil's other passion projects: USITT's New Century Fund for Young Professionals (www.usitt.org/donate) or Behind the Scenes (wp.behindthescenescharity.org/product/donate/).

(24 November 2021)

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