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Hugh Hardy

By Billie Tsien

What do you say when the music stops?

The music is by Cole Porter and the song is “You’re the Top.”

The music has stopped because Hugh Hardy has left the stage.

Hugh Hardy was an architect who made some of the most perfect stages in the world.

If you have watched dance at the Joyce, gone to a performance at BAM, seen a play at the luminous Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center, worshipped at Central Synagogue, marveled at the restoration of Radio City Music Hall, brought your kids to the New Victory Theater, had a spectacular dinner at the Rainbow Room, or just sat with a cup of coffee in Bryant Park and watched the world go by, enjoying the impromptu show that is New York—you owe Hugh Hardy a word of thanks.

Hugh was the epitome of what it means to be a New Yorker. He was witty, generous, and urbane, and using a word that can only be seriously applied to a very few people—dapper!

The New York Times quoted Julie Iovine as saying that Hugh and his wife, the beautiful and wise Tiziana, were the “the Nick and Nora Charles of a certain New York set, a group of people who are involved in helping to ensure a future for New York as rich in magic as its nostalgia-tinged past.” He serenades with Gershwin tunes and she pours the champagne.

And indeed a short biography of Hugh presents a very glamorous backdrop. Hugh was born in Majorca to expat parents while his father, an advertising executive for Young and Rubicam, was taking time off to write a novel. Upon their return to the States, the family divided its time between Manhattan and Irvington-on-Hudson and, completing his Fitzgeraldean saga, Hugh attended Deerfield and Princeton. But here his path diverges a bit as he began his career with Jo Mielziner, a leading theatrical set designer. Theater entered his blood and never left.

On March 15th Hugh fell getting out of a car prior to a performance at the the Joyce. He and Tiziana had dinner and then went to the theater. He lost consciousness during the performance and died the next day of a cerebral hemorrhage. It is both tragic and heartbreakingly beautiful.

His beloved Tiziana died August 28th. They are survived by their children, Sebastian and daughter-in-law Marie, and Penelope and son-in-law Granger, and three grandchildren, Francesco, Matteo, and Amelia.

On March 23rd at 7:30 these theaters dimmed their lights in honor of Hugh:

The Joyce Theater (New York, NY)
Brooklyn Academy of Music (New York, NY)
Lincoln Center Theater (New York, NY)
Theatre Row (New York, NY)
New Amsterdam Theatre (New York, NY)
National Dance Institute (New York, NY)
Theatre for a New Audience (New York, NY)
Dance Theatre of Harlem (New York, NY)
Radio City Music Hall (New York, NY)
The New Victory Theater (New York, NY)
Signature Theatre (New York, NY)
Performing Arts Center at Purchase College (Purchase, NY)
Royden B. Davis Performing Arts Center, Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.)
The Glimmerglass Festival (Cooperstown, NY)
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center (Great Barrington, MA)
Hippodrome Theatre at the France Merrick Performing Arts Center (Baltimore, MD)
Wilma Theater (Philadelphia, PA)
Two River Theater (Red Bank, NJ)
Orchestra Hall (Minneapolis, MN)

The last time I saw Hugh was a month before he died. We were at an event together and he sat down next to me and said, “You know, I think I really need to write love letters to people.” The next day we received an email. It was a lovely and encouraging message and ended with:

Many bravos and bravas.

Best Wishes,

I meant to write a love letter back but I didn’t get the chance so I will simply quote Cole Porter:

You’re the top! You’re the Coliseum,
You’re the top! You’re the Louvre Museum,
You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss,
You’re a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet,
You’re Mickey Mouse.
You’re the Nile, You’re the Tow’r of Pisa,
You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa.
I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
But if, Baby, I’m the bottom,
You’re the top!

Read at the Academy Dinner Meeting on November 9, 2017.

© 2021 American Academy of Arts and Letters