craft had its own truth, and he would eventually adopt its central tenet
that scenery should disappear thirty seconds after the curtain rises.
Back in New York, he was convinced that his future lay in stage design and began an apprenticeship with the Theater Guild, making his
Broadway debut during the 1924–1925 season with The Guardsman. Critics took special note of his set designs. He went on to develop a reputation among producers and directors as a resourceful designer with a
talent for solving problems. But he knew that the world of theater was
too unpredictable to allow him to rest on his laurels. He took the majority of the work offered him and kept up a frenetic pace, doing everything himself: scouring antique stores and secondhand shops for furniture and props, rendering hundreds of sketches, and developing lighting
plans. Maintaining a schedule of six to seven productions a year, he was
inducted into “Broadway’s hit/flop mentality”—for every success, there
were even more failures.
During World War II, Mielziner missed two seasons on Broadway
when he joined the US Army Air Forces to design camouflage. When he
returned to theater work in 1944, he moved into the Dakota, an apartment building across from Central Park that eventually attracted the
city’s cultural and social elite: Boris Karloff, Rosemary Clooney, Judy
Color sketch for the hanging ceiling. Jo Mielziner, 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, image
courtesy of Billy Rose Theater Collection, N YPL, © Jo Mielziner Estate.