John Harold Coakley(1918 – 1970)
Coakley came from a family of artists and studied at Chouinard Art Institute. One of George Gibson’s youngest MGM apprentices, Coakley, worked at MGM from 1936 until 1953 and became one of Hollywood’s most influential scenic artists. Coakley departed MGM to lead 20th Century Fox’s Scenic Art Studio at the age of thirty, shaping the look and quality of their scenic art for a decade. Unfortunately, Fox’s Scenic Art Department abruptly shuttered due to the studio cost overruns on Cleopatra (1965). In this unexpected transition, Coakley formed his own company J. C. Backings with his son, John “Gary” Coakley. They rented out the paint frames at 20th Century Fox and began a venture that has lasted sixty years.
Their first project was Mary Poppins (1964), followed shortly after by The Sound of Music (1965). Coakley oversaw the scenic art for one of 20th Century Fox’s most ambitious projects, Hello Dolly (1969), transforming the facades on the studio backlot into old New York. Coakley Jr. passed unexpectedly in 1970. His son, Gary, continued running the business, making and renting painted backings for the motion picture industry and training generations of artists in the MGM style. Film credits include The Towering Inferno (1974), Logan’s Run (1976), Ghostbusters (1984), Home Alone (1990), Hook (1991), Chaplin (1992), Jurassic Park (1993), and The Terminal (2004). J.C. Backings still prospers today, led by President Lynne Coakley. The company has adapted its deep knowledge of backdrop painting to support an evolving film industry through digitally printed translucent backdrops.
Coakley, Gary (scenic artist). 2013. Interview with Karen Maness for the Art Directors Guild Oral History Project, June. Maness, Karen L., Isackes, Richard M., Maness, Karen L. 2016. The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop, ReganArts., 2023. Hollywood Backdrop Collection for Texas Performing Arts., Skinner, Donald E. 1990. The History of J.C. Backings. Los Angeles: Private publication
John Harold Coakley
John Harold Coakley with son John Gary Coakley
Coakley Family Collection