Lyle Brooks
Lyle Brooks
Courtesy of Pageant of the Masters

OC, Pageant of the Masters Lose Quite a Character

Folks with the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach are reeling over last week's death of one of their veteran sculptors, Lyle Brooks, who collapsed after a morning production meeting and died shortly thereafter of an apparent heart attack. He was only 49.

"I haven't begun to accept or comprehend the loss of our dear comrade Lyle," says Pageant director Diane Challis Davy in a statement emailed to the Weekly. "We are all in shock. He was an extraordinarily talented person: sculptor, painter, actor, photographer, calligrapher, bon vivant, chef, humorist and philosopher. That's just a partial list."

Pageant officials aren't the only people grieving. A self-taught photographer and watercolorist, Brooks was quite a character and (literally) larger than life, with a thick mane of silver and gold and often sporting a genuine Tartan quilt since a visit to Scotland several years ago.

Writer and photographer Ben Simpson wrote this on his Live Journal page the day his friend passed:

It was a good day.
Hallie just called me, and we went down to The Saloon for a drink.
One of our friends, Lyle Brooks, passed away from a heart attack.
Damn, he was one of the good ones.
We spent many hours in the bar together,
discussing philosophy and women.
Last month I took of portrait of him working,
he was a sculptor at the Pageant of the Masters.
His is the fifth photograph, the one holding the knife,
trying to look evil,
which he never was.

(You can see the photo Simpson refers to here.)
Lyle David Edward Brooks moved with his family to South Orange County in 1967 and later attended Mission Viejo High School and Saddleback College before chasing a theatrical career. He was the lead scenic artist at Laguna Playhouse from 1986-'91 and technical director with the Serendipity Theater Company.

He was called out to help the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts' Pageant of the Masters during "crunch time" in 1995--the stretch from May through June when pre-production invariably spills over into nights and weekends. After that first season, Brooks was invited back to assist Judith Ann Parker, who has been the Pageant sculptor since 1983. He'd stayed there ever since. "Lyle's sculptural work for the Pageant was impeccable," according to Davy. "He contributed so much fine work for the show. There are many wonderful examples of it in our workshops and on stage."

According to the Pageant's statement, Parker and Brooks' collaboration was "born of mutual respect and a shared love of bad jokes and wisecracks." They "produced some of the Pageant's most memorable re-creations of sculptures, from the ornamental to the monumental."

For those who have somehow managed to live in Orange County without ever attending the Pageant, it presents a "living tableau" every summer featuring live actors standing oh so still as they portray subjects in various works of fine art. Through lighting, makeup and, yes, sculpture, three-dimensional people and things appear to be their counterparts in two-dimensional paintings. The show's closer traditionally has been Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper."

Brooks once said in an interview that his personal inspirations included painters Amedeo Modigliani and Frida Kahlo and photographers Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe--really, any artists whose personal struggles and tragedies deeply influenced and informed their work. He added in typical Lyle Brooks fashion, "To produce art and get paid for it is pretty groovy, and chicks dig the art thing, man!"

He is survived by his mother and wife Theresa, who he'd reportedly just married. His extended family of Pageant co-workers have dedicated this season to his memory. A memorial mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, July 23, in--where else?--the Irvine Bowl on the Festival of Arts grounds at 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.


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