As a child growing up in California, Missouri, Bill Groom (G ’74) used his imagination to entertain his family at his grandmother’s house every other Sunday with self-produced plays in the living room and the occasional circus in the backyard. He would rearrange furniture and use household textiles to create sets, and he and his cousin Connie would star. At the time it was just a hobby and not intended to be the start of a career path, but “turns out it was.”
Groom has since launched a highly successful and illustrious career as a production designer and art director for both television and film. He has worked with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Ryan Murphy and most recently Amy Sherman-Palladino on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (for which he drew inspiration from his own nostalgia for “old New York”). He has also designed for “Saturday Night Live” (during the time of Gilda Radner and Eddie Murphy) and “Boardwalk Empire,” for which he won four Primetime Emmys.
Having originally planned on majoring in art, Groom’s need for structure and story led him to study theater as an undergraduate. He was offered an assistantship and full scholarship to Tulane’s graduate school after being scouted by the then-chair of the theater department at a regional undergrad competition. He recounted that at this time, the theater department was housed in a wooden World War II-surplus building at the front of campus near St. Charles Avenue.
After graduating from Tulane with an MFA, Groom took a teaching position at Stony Brook University (just outside New York City). Four years later he moved into the city to freelance, and after passing the required scenic design tests for the union, he landed the art director job at “Saturday Night Live,” where he “learned to work really fast.” Not long after that, he was offered what he considers to be his big break as production designer for A League of Their Own, and the rest is history.
“My career’s never been better,” Groom said, before stating that most of his success happened after he turned 60. He feels grateful to have had opportunities to work on very different projects throughout his career (such as “Boardwalk” vs. “Mrs. Maisel”). Asked what kind of project(s) might be up next, he said that he is just happy working.
“You just see what’s in front of you and make a choice.”