From refugee to top production designer in Canada and Hollywood

They allowed us to poke out our heads, to chop them off later, the late Val Strazovec said.

Val StrazovecVal Strazovec (Source: Portraits of Successful Slovaks Abroad)

Behind the scenes, literally, of world-famous films and productions is a Slovak, Val Strazovec as production designer.

Valerián Stražovec was among those who decided to leave Czechoslovakia after the 1968 invasion. If he had stayed, he was almost sure to end up in prison and his children would not have been allowed to study. Within two hours, Stražovec and his wife made their decision, packed two suitcases, grabbed their two little boys and crossed the border.

SkryťTurn off ads
Article continues after video advertisement
SkryťTurn off ads
Article continues after video advertisement

Read also: August 1968: After a temporary thaw, the Czechoslovak borders were sealed Read more 

“It was hard. An unknown environment, zero knowledge of the language, no home, two small children, no food,” Stražovec recalled in a 2013 documentary from the series Portraits, featuring successful Slovaks living abroad.

SkryťTurn off ads

Theatre, dance and music

Stražovec belonged among the top production designers in Canada and Hollywood. He co-founded the production design institute of the CBC. His most notable works are the Muppets movies, which brought him two Emmy Awards.

When asked about his beginnings, Stražovec recalled his childhood, when he got his first puppet theatre at the age of three. He later joined the puppet theatre in Slovenská Ľupča.

Read also: Our emigrants’ stories: lessons in humanity Read more 

Stražovec experienced the hardship of living in a totalitarian regime early on. He was expelled from high school just before he was to take the final exams.

“The headmaster personally came to our classroom. I stood up, and he read the decision that due to my non-pioneer behaviour, I had to leave school immediately,” Stražovec recounted. He was lucky to be admitted to another school, in Bratislava, thanks to his football talent. But he remained faithful to his love of theatre, dance and music. He later performed in the Lúčnica folklore ensemble for eight years, where he met his wife Magda.

SkryťTurn off ads

“We had nice years travelling around the world. At that time it was allowed to go behind the Iron Curtain,” he explained, adding that even their university lecturers envied them the travel possibilities with Lúčnica.

Heads chopped off

Stražovec decided to study architecture. In the very first year, a professor opened a group for everyone interested in theatre, offering a look at the workings of the stage and behind the scenes. Stražovec joined immediately. After two years of architecture, he switched to the Academy of Performing Arts to study stage design. In the end he finished both degrees, architecture and stage design.

The rest of this article is premium content at
Subscribe now for full access

I already have subscription - Sign in

Subscription provides you with:
  • Immediate access to all locked articles (premium content) on
  • Special weekly news summary + an audio recording with a weekly news summary to listen to at your convenience (received on a weekly basis directly to your e-mail)
  • PDF version of the latest issue of our newspaper, The Slovak Spectator, emailed directly to you
  • Access to all premium content on and

Top stories

A cup of coffee with a furry friend could help them find their new forever friend - and get you a new companion.

Weekend: Mingling with felines in Bratislava's cat cafes

Take a trip to mountain tarns, old-timey cinematography and cats.

31. mar
Volkswagen will make all-electric versions of the Porsche Cayenne luxury SUV.

News Digest: Volkswagen Slovakia to produce all-electric luxury SUV

LGBT+ minority could face new difficulties, a suspect is charged in the Daniel Tupý murder case.

24. mar
Filip Toška holding chard in the hydroponic Hausnatura farm.

How a Mayan doomsday prophecy took a Slovak to hi-tech agriculture

Hydroponic farm run out of former telephone exchange.

9. mar
A Slovak citizen got his possessions frozen over sanctions - he attempted an arms deal for Russia. (Illustrative photo)

News digest: Slovak citizen is accused of involvement in attempted Russian arms deals

Heger goes to Ukraine, virtual reality resurrects a Roman camp. and AI is taking over – or is it?

31. mar
SkryťClose ad