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History & Tribute to Joe Lombardi


Born June 24, 1924

Passaic, NJ

Died December 18, 1997
London, England, UK

"As long as I can walk,

I'll keep working."


On March 1, 1997, Joe Lombardi, founder of Special Effects Unlimited, Inc., was given the Award of Commendation by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences at their Technical Achievement Awards.

69th Sci Tech Awards, 1997 - Dennis Hopper presents an Award of Commendation to special effects guru Joe Lombardi in celebration of 50 years in the motion picture industry. His knowledge and leadership in the field of pyrotechnics and special effects along with his uncompromising promotion of safety on the set have established the standard for today's special effects technicians.

Joe Lombardi

Joseph J. Lombardi

Lombardi _ a talented Construction Coordinator and gifted Special Effects Technician _ was the first person to receive such an award. A veteran of more than 50 years in the motion picture industry, Joe remained active well after normal retirement age working on big films such as "Con Air" with Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich.

"We had 40 people on "Con Air" and ran a C123 plane into the Sands Hotel in Vegas before they blew it up last year," Lombardi said. Joe's commendation reads, "His knowledge and leadership in the field of pyrotechnics and special effects, along with his uncompromising promotion of safety on the set, have established the standard for today's special effects technicians."

The skilled machinist & carpenter first joined the business in 1946 as a set construction foreman for Lucille Ball before this craft was unionized into I.A.T.S.E. Local 44. His friendship with Lucy lasted for many years watching Joe's limitless potential" on her famous TV show "I Love Lucy". It was Lucy who gave Joe the name of his company Special Effects Unlimited, because it matched his unlimited talent. She also came up with the phrase: "Where the Impossible is Possible".

"She found out that I was rigging most of the gags for the series and she told me I was an 'Unlimited' person and should do more," recalled Joe. "I had always wanted to get into special effects but never caught a break until Lucy."​


Joe Lombardi working on the electronics

of the original Star Trek USS Enterprise bridge set.


Joe Lombardi and Lucille Ball in the mid 1960s.

Inspired by Lucy's confidence, Lombardi started his own business _ Special Effects Unlimited in 1962 _ which continues to flourish today. Lombardi stayed with Desilu for a number of years, working on such shows as the original "Star Trek," "My Favorite Martian," and shows for such comedic legends as Danny Thomas and Red Skelton.

When Gulf Western bought Paramount and Desilu, Joe left to devote more time to his company and moved on to the big screen. In his own words, Lombardi did 9 Mafia movies then became known as "the guy who does war movies."

Lombardi's Special Effects work brought him recognition as a pioneer in the field of Special Effects whose influence set the trend for his successors and future Oscar & Emmy Award Winners.

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Joe Lombardi

"Joe was a real character, one of Hollywood 'old timers', with more stories than there was ever time for him to tell. He's definitely remembered by anyone who ever worked with him."

Joe Lombardi helps Bob Hope and Lucille Ball on set of the 1960's "The Facts of Life."

Joe Lombardi makes rain for an episode of "Facts of Life" with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball.

Desilu Studios

Desilu production headquarters

With Lucille Ball on set of "I Love Lucy."

Joe Lombardi works with Lucille Ball on the set of "I Love Lucy."

Riverwood Studios

Riverwood Studios were built in 1989 in Senoia, GA by Paul and Joe Lombardi.

Joe Lombardi & Lucille Ball

Before he created Riverwood Studios, Joe Lombardi, left, had a career in special effects at Desilu Studios, created by Lucille Ball, above, and husband Desi Arnaz.

Riverwood Studios

Riverwood Studios

A moment with Joe Lombardi

Danny Thomas enjoys a moment with Joe Lombardi, who was the pyrotechnic genius behind Desilu's blockbusters.

“Joe was the key individual who most influenced my film career. He was born to be in the business and his insight on how the Film & TV Business worked along with his trust in me gave me the foundation from which I launched my career while building his company into the biggest effects business in the world. I'm most proud of this and will forever give Joe the credit for giving me this platform. He is missed and always in my thoughts.”

Gabe Videla

D'Artagnan Entertainement Inc. -
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