June 30, 2018

Costumes for Eliza Doolittle, Pygmalion, Summer 1984 (ink/marker on sketch paper, fabric sample for Eliza, Act IV)
Costumes for Pygmalion, Summer 1984 (ink/marker on sketch paper, fabric sample for Mrs. Higgins)

In last week’s post I wrote about Occidental’s summer drama program, where they presented plays in Oxy’s Greek Bowl for more than 50 years. I wrote about working in the costume shop the summer of 1984 and my role in the design and fabrication of costumes for the characters in Pygmalion. That story got me thinking about some sketches I had done. So, I dug through my myriad of portfolios and found some art. I designed and made the ivory-colored ball gown you see here for Eliza (Act IV). I enjoyed making this dress so much that I even lined it with some left over soft peach-colored silk that I had dyed. (It was left over from another project.) The actress who played the part looked stunning in the dress, along with the rented full-length white gloves and sparkling necklace and tiara (made by the Oxy props department). As it turns out I did not make the “men’s suit” inspired dress to the right for her. Well, actually I did make it, but in a bright red-orange fabric that all but glowed in the dark. In fact, it was just too bright and upstaged everything every time she walked out on stage. Oh well. Thank goodness there was a perfectly lovely Victorian period dress that had already been made for the actress playing Eliza (from a previous play—I think it was from “The Importance of Being Earnest”) and we used it instead. The other set of sketches show what I had envisioned for Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering and Henry’s mother. We didn’t make any men’s costumes, as there were so many Victorian period suits we could rent from various costume rental businesses in town. I remember we rented a mid-length black overcoat for Colonel Pickering. And we found a women’s cape made of fur in Oxy’s women’s costume room that I put around the neck and shoulders of that actor. It looked really cool on stage, like a great fur coat a man with great wealth would have worn to the theater in Victorian London in winter. (Of course it was LA in July, so the actor who played Colonel Pickering must have sweltered in his suit and tie, overcoat and fur mantle.) I don’t remember what I made for Henry Higgins’s mother. I know I wanted the cool dress I sketched here, but I think since she wasn’t really a principle character I found something else suitable for her to wear. And if I remember correctly, there just wasn’t enough time to make one more costume from scratch. It was so much fun to research, plan and execute all of the costumes for that play. As I said in last week’s blog, the summer of 1984 was pretty great for me!

Last time I also mentioned that I had taken a costuming class at UCLA extension before that summer. (For a brief time I considered “costuming” as a career. And such a notion started with this class.) A very bubbly blonde taught it and her name was Deirdre Naughton. When I first signed up for the class I didn’t really know anything about “costuming” and I didn’t know who Dierdre was, but I had heard of the TV show “Square Pegs.” (She was the head costumer for that 1982-1983 show.) Just as an aside—a costumer is generally the person who manages/organizes/cleans costumes worn by actors. And generally speaking a costume designer determines what will be worn. Either way, to work on costumes in movies and TV you need to belong to a union, or guild.

Deirdre invited Robert Turturice, a costume designer, to speak at one of our classes. He had so many interesting stories to tell, including his early work at Western Costuming where his job there was to dye shoes. That’s right, all he did was spray men’s and women’s shoes different colors. I don’t remember his exact words on the subject, but I wish I did. They were the kind of words a person should live by. I remember he said that you never knew whom you were “spraying” shoes for—it could have been for a major star or someone who had only one or two scenes in a movie. He admitted that it was pretty monotonous—white to brown, black to lavender, red to metallic gold, two-toned spectators etc. But he said he always did the best job he could for each pair because he never knew who was going to wear those shoes and he wanted that person to be outstanding and shine as they walked on set. I’ve reflected often on this story and truly believe he meant it as a metaphor for life—to do every job you are given the best you can. Of course he followed that one up with stories of his later design work in Las Vegas where he created leather dominatrix costumes for various showgirls. I guess he even wanted those dressed in head to toe leather to shine just like a beautiful pair of shoes. Thinking about the way he told those two stories, one after another, still makes me grin a little. There are of course other words to live by that might be something more like “don’t take yourself too seriously…”

And then Mr. Turturice got to his more current work, where he described doing costumes for the 1983 TV movie, “Blood Feud” (story of Bobby Kennedy trying to take down Jimmy Hoffa). That was so interesting as he described how the lawmakers/politician’s wore rumpled and ill-fitting shirts and suits. Whereas, the teamsters (lead by Jimmy Hoffa) were impeccably dressed with expensive suits, tie pins and cufflinks. He talked of setting up a kind of warehouse of suits, ties and shoes of different sizes and shapes for the various actors to try on before they made the movie at 20th Century Fox. He talked about using tea to dye the dress shirts to be a bit off white as a pristine white shirt was just too bright and would appear to almost vibrate when on camera. He also talked about something called Picrin, an all-purpose dry stain remover. Both he and Deirdre discussed this miracle product as well as going to “all night” dry cleaners in town. (I guess the armpit area of shirts and suit jackets can get pretty stained and stinky. It was explained clearly to us that it was the costumer’s job to get armloads of clothing cleaned before the next day’s “shoot.”) After Mr. Turturice finished describing what he did for “Blood Feud” he talked about working with Cybill Shepherd. Over the years he had become her “go to” designer and was about to start working on costumes for her in a new show (at the time) called “Moonlighting.” He didn’t have anything to do with Bruce Willis’s suits, but Robert Turturice designed every piece of clothing worn by Ms. Shepherd from March 1985 to May 1989. (In 1987 he won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Costuming for a Series for Moonlighting. And when I got married that summer, I tried to make my hair look like her character on the show. It looked great for about 15 minutes…maybe that was my 15 minutes of fame…)

But the final costuming story this one California girl wants to tell is about Ms. Naughton. She was wonderful and so generous with her ideas and suggestions. She talked endlessly about her job, even how she and Mr. Turturice had both participated in the Emmy Awards voting for people in the costume design and costumer categories. Deirdre also talked about how to break into the business, including how to get into the costumer’s union. In fact, on the second to last class she asked a couple of us if we wanted to do some last minute “in the trenches” costuming for a movie that was on it’s third unit. Of course I said, “Yeah!” And I threw myself into that project “with both feet and my hat off.” (That means with my usual gusto.) It was fun, but when the summer of 1984 ended I decided that I wasn’t really interested in pursuing “costuming” as a career. It seemed to me there was so much uncertainty about when, or if, you would have regular work, even if the work were a blast. But very late one night in early fall; I got a call from Dierdre. She wanted to be sure I had really considered becoming a costumer or costume designer. She was very encouraging and thought I would be really good at it. I appreciated the call and the words of encouragement, but didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t think it really was for me. It was so very thoughtful of her to make the effort.

Sadly, both Dierdre Naughton and Robert Turturice each have passed away. I found that out as I looked on the Internet for additional information to round out this post. It was fun to be prompted to recall and learn of her costuming credits, pre- and post summer 1984. For example, her costuming career started with “All in the Family.” And after she finished “Square Pegs” in 1983 she did costumes for a couple TV shows—“Head of the Class” and “A Different World.” It was clear that both Dierdre and Robert were each very creative and had a great passion for what they did—passing much of that enthusiasm along to me. I only met Mr. Turturice the one time and did not keep in touch with Deirdre after her late night call in late 1984. But I always liked the idea that such creative people were out there in the world doing cool things and pursuing a life in the “arts.” It’s hard to make a consistent living doing that. Maybe California still has wonderful and creative things that can be done under the sun for those of us who are square pegs that don’t fit into round holes or are the ultimate master at spraying shoes different colors. I know that if you are reading this, and have the soul of an artist like me, you know exactly what I am talking about and why we do it. Right?

Happy Birthday Deirdre Naughton, July 13, 1951

And Happy Birthday to my brother Brian, June 29

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