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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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Costume / Production Design

  December 2011 / January 2012


Jill Burgess
(of breaks down costume designer Carol Ramsey's transformation of Kate Hudson in LE DIVORCE (2003).  Taking the "casual California girl to glamorous soignee French mistress" ... with particular emphasis on that Hermes Kelly handbag (read)


Leesa Evans (ULTRAVIOLET, STIR OF ECHOES, GET HIM TO THE GREEK) discusses dressing six very different characters and trying not to oversell the humor of BRIDESMAIDS (2011)  (read)


For 1969's James Bond epic ON HER
, the late 
 Marjory Cornelius
(GENEVIEVE) combined
 the era's "jet set chic" with Savile Row
 classicism for a rarely achieved cinematic

   * Oscar winner Colleen Atwood discusses
 "Costume as plot" for Michael Mann's 

  * Costume designer Jenny Beavan (THE KING'S SPEECH, TIMELINE, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, GOSFORD PARK) dives into the puzzle box for the second time with the sequel SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011).  (read) 


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     That massive negative pressure rush many experienced on Friday November 4, 2011 was the vacuum barreling through the creative world caused by the passing of revered (and oft imitated) film costume designer Theadora Van Runkle.  Succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 83, the legendary Van Runkle was not only a staple of cinema, but also of the art (her paintings have been much sought after collectibles for years) and fashion worlds - her tomboyishly sexy styling of Faye Dunaway in BONNIE AND CLYDE-1967 (beret, calf-length skirt and cardigan sweater) igniting a fashion trend which still continues in one form or another today. 

     On this end our initial exposure to her artistry was upon first viewing of the 1968 Steve McQueen actioner BULLITT.  Hey, kinda hard not to notice the name "Van Runkle" in the opening credits.  And amidst the bad-ass tire screeching through the streets of San Francisco, the stalking of shot gun toting hit man "Ice Pick Mike" through the halls of the hospital, and the hair raisingly cool climactic foot chase across the airport tarmac, it was no small feat that Ms. Van Runkle's equally cool threds caught one's attention.  With BULLITT it was a unique "button-down" kind of cool with most of the characters (cops, robbers and even local stoolies) suited in sharply cut hand tailored two-pieces and attendant hats, ... except for McQueen's Frank Bullitt himself of course.  Ever the rebel, even as a detective, McQueen glides through the City by the Bay like a falcon on the prowl in a tight fitting turtleneck and short length trench blowing about behind him in the wind.  Next thing you knew, everyone on the street was copying the film's (and particularly McQueen's) style asthetic - what one might call "elegant cool".   Notice how the look was borrowed by George Clooney, director Steven Soderberg and designer Jeffrey Kurland for 2001's OCEAN'S 11 - Clooney and Soderberg being huge McQueen fans.  

   Van Runkle circa 1967 ... with her BONNIE beret

     But that was Van Runkle's contribution.  While enamored with both historical and current design influences, she managed to combine the two into her own sense of modern.  Check out Lucille Ball's Roaring Twenties "flapper" costumes in Gene Sacks 1974 film adaptation of MAME, or the glistening gold sport jackets worn by Nicolas Cage's high school singing group in Francis Ford Coppola's ode to lost youth PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986) - and yes, that is Jim Carrey!  They aren't entirely period authentic.  Faithful in tone, in feel, and even superficially in look to be sure.  But a thinner collar here, a looser waist cut there, and they're suddenly removed just a tad from documentary-like accuracy to become more appealing to the eye and subconscious tastes of the modern audience, giving that audience something to identify with which takes them from spectator of events to emotional participant in them.  This gave not just her costumes, but the films featuring them, a unique living and breathing personality all their own.  Not bad for a financially strapped woman with a couple of children, who taught herself design, then didn't enter the film business till in her 40s.

          Born in Pittsburgh, PA on March 27, 1928, Dorothy Schweppe (her birth name) was the illegitimate child of a liaison between her mother Eltsey Adair and Courtney Schweppe - a son of the famous Schweppe's carbonated beverage family.   When her parents failed to stay together, her mother moved to California where Dorothy eventually attended Chouinard Art Institute in LA.  She took the name "Theadora" while in her early twenties, then had some of her earliest jobs doing ad and department store catalog illustration work for the May Co.  This would lead to a job as illustrator assistant to award winning Hollywood costume designer Dorothy Jenkins (SAMSON AND DELILAH-1950, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS-1956, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN-1974) on the epic film HAWAII-1966.  And while let go by Jenkins after only one month (Van Runkle says it may have been because of artistic jealousy), Jenkins did eventually show her gratitude by recommending her former assistant to Arthur Penn when the director was looking for a designer for a "little western" (he called it) which turned out to be BONNIE AND CLYDE. 

     Van Runkle took the job even though she had no training as a costume designer.  The closest experience she did possess was the clothes making expertise she'd relied upon since childhood when teaching herself to sew and make dresses she couldn't afford based on patterns in Vogue Magazine.  Way to go!  As director Penn wanted BONNIE AND CLYDE to be more akin to the gritty and realistic films coming out of the French New Wave movement at the time, he was interested in a less polished "classic Hollywood" look, and his hiring of neophyte Van Runkle and near-neophyte production designer Dean Tavoularis were in keeping with this desired artistic aesthetic.  Stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were at first not happy with Van Runkle's designs.  Beatty felt his look (which Van Runkle based on real photos of mobster Pretty Boy Floyd) was too authentic, and Dunaway thought the designer was making her look ugly in the tomboyish sweater and beret.  Van Runkle's instincts proved correct however (she did end up slightly moving Clyde's wardrobe a little from tough guy hood to more in the direction of a "dandy-fied one") and her BONNIE AND CLYDE look - called by some "an astute fusion of Texas 1932 and Paris Left Bank 1967",  garnered her first Academy Award nomination while becoming a fashion sensation around the world. 

     Having struck up a creative partnership with production designer Tavoularis, the two together would go on to also forge the looks of THE GODFATHER PT. II-1974 and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED- 1986, both for director Francis Ford Coppola, and both garnering her second and third Oscar nods.  She and actress Faye Dunaway would also become a formidable late 1960s fashion "Dynamic Duo" after reuniting again on the original THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR-1968 and director Elia Kazan's THE ARRANGEMENT-1969.  Equally important (and intended) with THOMAS CROWN was to make the lush fashion saavy world in which the characters inhabited (that of millionaire thief Steve McQueen and dogged investigator on his trail Faye Dunaway) as essential and notice-able a character as the other leads.  To this end Dunaway's every appearance in the film takes on the near look and feel of a New York / Paris runway exhibition.


     Accompanied by a smooth jazz-influenced score by Michel Legrand (THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG-1964), it's a cinematically stylistic tact some feel hasn't aged well (Dunaway's mini skirts for one), but of which others feel still ranks as the best of 60s-era pop art.  All agree that McQueen's attire (commissioned and supervised by Van Runkle rather than created by her) to this day remains timelessly and effortlessly cool.  Again this was no easy task as the blue collar McQueen had never before worn suits in a film, and had to look as comfortable and "at home" in them as in his own skin. 

     Over the years Van Runkle's other films would include Martin Scorcese's NEW YORK, NEW YORK-1977, Steve Martin's film debut THE JERK-1979, Blake Edwards' Hollywood send up S.O.B.-1981, EVERYBODY'S ALL AMERICAN-1989, LEAP OF FAITH-1992, the TV version of THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON-1999 and numerous others.  She'd even take home an Emmy in 1983 for her work on CBS' short-lived fantasy series WIZARDS AND WARRIORS.  She is survived by her two children Max and Felicity, and by one grandson. 

     Here at the GullCottage we pay tribute to the legacy of Ms. Van Runkle's artistic influence with a small gallery-like collection of some of her creations which over the years have caused us to now and then hit the "Pause" button and say "Whoa!".   We think you'll agree.  A complete list of her films follows. 

                                                                                                                               CEJ - December 2011



play THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR - "Windmills Of Your Mind" 1999 vers. -
vocal by Sting (M. Legrand / A. & M. Bergman)




BULLITT (1968) 











1999That Championship Season (TV movie)
1998 I'm Losing You
1998 Goodbye Lover
1997 The Last Don (TV mini-series)
1995 White Dwarf (TV movie)
1995 Kiss of Death
1992 Leap of Faith
1992 The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 (video)
1991 The Butcher's Wife
1990 Stella
1989 Troop Beverly Hills
1988 Everybody's All-American
1988 Wildfire
1986 Peggy Sue Got Married
1984 Rhinestone
1983 Wizards and Warriors (TV series)
1982 The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
1981 S.O.B.
1979 The Jerk
1978 Same Time, Next Year
1977 New York, New York
1976 Nickelodeon
1974 The Godfather: Part II
1974 Mame
1973 Kid Blue
1973 Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies
1971 Johnny Got His Gun
1970 Myra Breckinridge
1969 The Reivers
1969 The Arrangement
1968 The Thomas Crown Affair
1968 Bullitt
1968 I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!
1967 Bonnie and Clyde 
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