Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Warner Brothers 1949

Flamingo Road - Joan Crawford

Though Travilla had the ability to get along with most anybody, one particular actress lived up to her difficult reputation. The film was Flamingo Road and it starred Joan Crawford. After being released by MGM, Crawford got a contract at Warner Brothers which was now reaching it's end. Flamingo Road was one of her last for the studio and the aging actress was more demanding than ever. Travilla's recollections of working with her were not exactly pleasant.

Travilla at Warner's working on Crawford's costumes for "Flamingo Road."
"Some people, no matter how hard you try, just can't be satisfied" Travilla stated. "Joan was playing a poor carnival dancer, and her first test shots were in close-up only. So I loaned her a sweater, just something I had in stock that I thought might work for that sequence. I also loaned her a skirt, that wouldn't even show in the test." The next day, Travilla was fitting another actress when "I got a call from the assistant director asking me to come to the set. 'Miss Crawford doesn't like the skirt.' I said I couldn't come and carried on with the fitting." Crawford went into a furious rage and walked from the soundstage to Travilla's office where "she slammed the door open so hard the knob went clean through the wall and stuck fast."*


Final sketch similar to one far upper right in above photo.
Three of Travilla's designs for Crawford's character "Lane."


Three designs for Joan's co-star Gladys George.
Taking no account that another actress was there, "Joan exploded! And her tirade included more four-letter words that I'd ever heard from a woman before. Later in the day, a beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived for me with a sincere note of apology." But Travilla found Crawford so difficult that "I was happy to loan her my patterns, but wouldn't make or fit the clothes myself."*



Almost a decade later, after Travilla had left the studio system and began his private label line, Crawford proved what a lady she could be. "I was showing my collection at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and Joan came to see my clothes. She was a vision in brilliant green, with a silk print dress and matching turban. Even her gloves, bag and shoes were dyed the same shade of emerald." As his models were showing the collection, "The head buyer of a store very important to me arrived. They joined us and of course, wanted to meet the great Joan Crawford.!" Travilla remembers, "when the show began to repeat itself, Joan stood up to leave and put on her green silk coat, lined in the same print as her dress. She shook hands all around and said:' I'll give you a call about the clothes I want, Billy. I took down all the numbers.' I'll never forget it; that was a lovely thing for her to say in front of the buyers."*




*Hollywood Costume Design by Travilla" Maureen Reilly - Schiffer

The Inspector General

Another one of Travilla's period-piece triumphs was "The Inspector General" with Danny Kaye. Kaye's role took him from an illiterate stooge to (mistakenly) a high-ranking official in this comedy which even gave Travilla the chance to dress Kaye in drag as an old beggar woman.

Kaye in four of Travilla's designs. Beggar woman lower right.

A detailed look at one of Kaye's costumes from "The Inspector General."

Here is Kaye performing an intricate musical number wearing another one of Travilla's designs. Not only did it have to look good, but allow for a wide range of movement.

One of Travilla's creations for Kaye's co-star Elsa Lanchester
The Adventures of Don Juan - (1949)


While Travilla had created Sheridan's Silver River wardrobe, it was Marjorie Best who dressed her male lead Errol Flynn and was slated to work on his next picture "The Adventures of Don Juan." But her meticulous research revealed that back then, men were dressed in ruffles, bloomers and white powdered faces. According to Travilla, "Flynn's reaction was 'Not for old dad.' He thought he'd be a laughing stock and he was right." Travilla got the job when Errol told studio head Jack Warner "If anyone can make Ann Sheridan look good, they can sure dress me."

Travilla designed 27 costumes for Flynn to wear and during his fittings "Errol would spend five hours on the placement of a collar. We'd move it and then he'd say 'Oh, oh, we were better off the way we had it before, Bill'." I was climbing the walls, but the expenditure of time didn't bother Flynn at all who was fortified by ego and alcohol." Travilla recalled in 1968.

"I made up my own period and dressed him a virile way. I cut his jackets down to the waist then belted them and added a dagger. I gave him open neck shirts and sleeveless tunics to reveal his chest and tights with boots to show off his legs. He was beautifully dressed to appeal to the women in the audience."

Travilla told David Chierichetti in Hollywood Costume Design "I created a look that was mostly fictitious, but Flynn liked it.Collars they didn't have in the Renaissance, or very small ruffs, no trunks, long jackets which covered his rump, no puffy sleeves. Marge Best was very good about it, she changed enough of the extras and small parts so that Flynn wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb."


Vests and Tunics for Flynn by Travilla.



Closer view of center costume and on Flynn in film

Another ornate tunic.
Flynn took ample opportunity to pull a crude joke on more than one actress/female crew member by placing a cylindrical object in the crotch of his tights and wait for their shocked reaction when they finally noticed. It was that kind of humor that created a personal friendship between the two men with Travilla (and Dona) finding themselves at many of the wild parties held at Flynn's hill-side bachelor pad.

Leah Rhodes (facing camera center in large hat). Travilla partially hidden with wife
Dona Drake at fashion event.
On March 23, 1950 at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in the city of Los Angeles Marjorie Best, Leah Rhodes and William Travilla won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design - Color for "The Adventures of Don Juan."


"Gee, this thing is heavier than it looks."

"Dear God, PLEASE don't let me drop it."

"I'd better put it down now."

First three things I thought to myself when I held this.




In 1985, Flynn's autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways became a television mini-series starring Rudiger Howar as Errol. Travilla was hired as designer and most certainly drew on the professional and personal friendship in creating the costumes.

Look for the Silver Lining (1949)



Celadon green sleeveless V-neck dress accented with stripes of silver bugle beads, gathered waist skirt, front slit and pale green chiffon along front, waist, sleeves and back train. Hook & eye zip and snap back closure. 













The Girl from Jones Beach - See Dona Drake Travilla

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