Cletus Anderson, former drama professor, dies at 69

Cletus Anderson, professor emeritus in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama, died on March 16 at his home in Squirrel Hill. He was 69.

The cause was cancer, according to a March 21 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Anderson and his wife, Barbara, joined the School of Drama faculty in 1968. Since then, Anderson has acted as production designer, art director, costume designer, and set designer on countless film and television projects as well as for the Pittsburgh Public Theater and the School of Drama. In 1978, he was appointed to head the design and production option and remained in the position until 1995. He retired in 2003.

He is also the coauthor of Costume Design with his wife, the second edition of which was published by Harcourt Brace in 1998. Mrs. Anderson is associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and a Bessie Anathan drama professor.

Anderson was a mentor to students as well as a connection to the world of drama outside Carnegie Mellon.

“Cletus was always very close with his students,” Mrs. Anderson said. “He would often have them out to the house to work on projects. They felt he gave them guidance in becoming a designer but also a way to work and live.”

Anderson was also very close with his colleagues within the department, according to his wife. He was always open and willing to discuss projects, and costumed many faculty members when they were in productions themselves. In the later years of his tenure, many of his colleagues were also former students.

One such colleague is Susan Tsu, who took over Anderson’s position as professor of costume design upon his retirement. Tsu received her BFA in drama from the College of Fine Arts in 1972 and her MFA in 1974.

“[Cletus] has inspired and launched the careers of successful designers and teachers across the United States,” Tsu said. “For those of us lucky enough to have had Cletus as a teacher, his high standards, wisdom, and talent will be with us forever.”

Barbara could not estimate the number of productions in which Anderson had been involved throughout his career. She did mention that one of his most difficult undertakings was the production of 180 costumes for the School of Drama’s production of Nicholas Nickelby.

Thomas Wesley Douglas, associate professor of music theatre, recalled working with Anderson on the Pittsburgh premier of the musical Closer than Ever in 1994.

“Cletus was a wonderful singer and actor,” Douglas said. “We had a ball.”

Anderson’s students carry equally fond memories.

“Professor Cletus Anderson was an extraordinary mentor for me and many others,” said Su Pei-chi, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2001 with an MFA in costume design.
“In 1999, I faced the first design challenge to put on a main-stage production for School of Drama. There was a lot of pressure; hence we worked restlessly day and night,” she continued. “One day, I was in the costume shop staring at the show’s costume on a mannequin with no clue how to proceed. Suddenly a voice came from the other end of the room saying ‘It’s not that bad.’ It was one of Cletus’ humorous comments.”

Anderson’s last project was as set designer for a production of Forbidden Broadway for the Civic Light Opera. The show will run at the Theater Square Cabaret until April 15.

A memorial service at Carnegie Mellon will take place in April.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Anderson Production Fund, Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, Purnell Center for the Arts, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.