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William Travilla Dressing for Television

The following is an excerpt from Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla by Andrew Hansford (Applause Books).

In the spring of 1975 Bill Sarris arrived to drag Travilla back into designing and he resurfaced with a vengeance, working on his fashion label alongside Sarris and taking on more and more freelance costume design. One of the first design jobs he did was the television mini series Moviola in 1980. His first episode, called “This Year’s Blonde”, was dedicated to Marilyn Monroe’s years as a struggling actress. The second, devoted to the stars of Gone With the Wind, was entitled “The Scarlet O’Hara Wars”. For this he won his first Emmy. He found it amusing that his first foray back into costume design was based on the golden era of Hollywood, the period in which he had started out, noting, “Women wanted glamour again and I was able to give it to them.”

His career hit a new high in the early 1980’s with a series of costume designs as iconic in their way as those he had created for Marilyn’s films. He was asked to redesign the look of the clothes in a show already airing on television: Dallas. Watching the series, Travilla was shocked to see that the supposedly glamorous characters were “wearing polyester”. Thanks to a huge budget, he transformed them, making them more befitting their status as super-rich oil tycoons. Those strikingly designs helped the characters and the show achieve legendary status. Not only did Travilla win an Emmy for Dallas, but his designs for the show’s female leads were credited with increasing the show’s ratings.

Donna Mills and Andrew Hansford

Donna Mills and Andrew Hansford 2012

Travilla also designed for many well-regarded TV mini-series in the ’80s, including The Thorn Birds, Evita Peron and The Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Story. He relished designing for Knots Landing and for a show, set in a high-end department store, called Berrenger’s. In the second part of his long and successful career as costume designer he dressed a stream of stunning women, striking up friendships with many. These included Donna Mills, Linda Gray–whom he adored, saying, “she is as beautiful inside as she is outside”–and Sharon Tate, whom he declared “one of the nicest and most beautiful women I have ever met”. He found them, like Marilyn, “a pleasure to dress”. Travilla was nominated for an Emmy Award six years running (1980-86) and won twice, for “The Scarlett O’Hara Wars” episode of Moviola and for Dallas. He was nominated for an Oscar four times and won once. In the course of his career he dressed more than 200 stars and designed costumes for 120 movies and television shows, as well as creating hundreds of personal dresses for celebrity clients.

William Travilla is one of the best costume designers of all time and Marilyn Monroe his most famous client. Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla focuses on the striking dresses that Travilla designed for Marilyn, from his early work on the thrillerDon’t Bother to Knock and the gorgeous pink dress in which Marilyn sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” to the legendary white dress from The Seven Year Itch, which arguably contributed to the collapse of Marilyn’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio. Featuring Travilla’s original sketches, rare costume test shots, dress patterns, photographs of Marilyn wearing the dresses, plus exclusive and never-before-seen extracts from interviews with Travilla, this book offers a fresh insight into the golden age of Hollywood.