COSTUME DESIGNER THEONI V. ALDREDGE DIES




FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

THEONI V. ALDREDGE, who designed the costumes for hundreds of Broadway and Off Broadway productions and who won an ACADEMY AWARD for her work on THE GREAT GATSBY, died on Friday in Stamford, Connecticut.

She was 88.

Her husband, the actor TOM ALDREDGE, said the cause was cardiac arrest.

In a career that lasted more than half a century, Ms. Aldredge was a favourite of top producers and directors on and off Broadway, among them DAVID MERRICK, MICHAEL BENNETT, JOSEPH PAPP, GOWER CHAMPION and ARTHUR LAURENTS.

Her beginnings were auspicious.

After designing the costumes for Elia Kazan’s production of TENNESSEE WILLIAMS’ SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH in 1959, she was hired by DAVID MERRICK for I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE, in which BARBRA STREISAND made her Broadway debut. The same year, 1962, she did the costumes for EDWARD ALBEE’S WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

After being introduced to JOSEPH PAPP, the director of THE NEW YORK SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL, she designed the costumes for his production of MEASURE FOR MEASURE in 1960 and soon became the company’s head designer, a position she held for more than 20 years.

In 1984 more than 1,000 of her costumes could be seen in five musicals running simultaneously on Broadway: A CHORUS LINE, DREAMGIRLS, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, 42ND STREET and THE RINK.

She won three TONY AWARDS for costume design: for ANNIE, BARNUM and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Her many film credits included NETWORK, THE ROSE, RICH & FAMOUS and MOONSTRUCK.

“She made people look beautiful, which is a lot harder than you might think,” said the costume designer MARTIN PAKLEDINAZ.

“She also had the ability to see a production as a whole, the way one number grew out of the previous number and led into the one after that.”

THEONI ATHANASIOU VACHLIOTIS was born AUGUST 22, 1922 in Salonika, Greece and grew up in Athens. Her father was the surgeon general of the Greek Army and a member of the Greek Parliament. As a child she fixated on dolls and their clothes — throughout her life she maintained a large doll collection — and by the time she graduated from the American School in Athens in 1949, she had decided on theatre as a career.

She enrolled at The Goodman School Of Drama in Chicago and, stopping in New York on her way to Chicago, attended a showing of the 1946 film CAESAR & CLEOPATRA.

“A strange thing happened,” she told THE NEW YORKER in 1973.

“I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the flowing garments worn by Vivien Leigh.”

“‘People can look so beautiful in clothes,”’ I said to myself. ”’There is a mystery to costume.’ And that’s when it started.”

She made her debut as a costume designer in 1950, creating the clothes for THE DISTAFF SIDE, a comedy by JOHN VAN DRUTEN, produced at The Goodman Theater and within a few years was teaching costume design at the theatre’s school.

She also married Mr. Aldredge, an actor who was studying to become a director and who went on to make a successful career in New York. (He currently appears as STEVE BUSCEMI’S father in the HBO series BOARDWALK EMPIRE.) He is her only immediate survivor.

After they moved to New York in 1959, Ms. Aldredge got off to a quick start when GERALDINE PAGE, who had admired her work at the Goodman, persuaded Elia Kazan to hire her for SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH.

“I made three outfits for Gerry — a negligee, a robe and a beaded navy blue evening dress with a lighter front because a bird’s stomach is always lighter than its back,” she told ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST in 1993.

“So there you had Tennessee Williams writing, Geraldine Page and Paul Newman acting…and I thought, ‘Where do I go from here?’”

Onward and upward, it turned out.

She won her first TONY nomination for THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE in 1961 and was in constant demand on Broadway, designing costumes for CACTUS FLOWER; the EDWARD ALBEE play A DELICATE BALANCE; WOMAN OF THE YEAR, with LAUREN BACALL; the revival of PRIVATE LIVES, with ELIZABETH TAYLOR and RICHARD BURTON; THE SECRET GARDEN; NICK & NORA and the 2006 revival of A CHORUS LINE.

She worked on more than 80 productions for JOSEPH PAPP, including THE THREEPENNY OPERA, DAVID RABE’S STICKS & BONES and HAIR, which all transferred to Broadway.

JOSEPH PAPP once praised Ms. Aldredge for designing costumes that seemed to develop out of the characters on stage and she herself insisted on the subservience of her craft.

“You don’t take over a show,” she told THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1984.

“What you do is enhance it because the costumes are there to serve a producer’s vision, a director’s viewpoint and, most importantly, an actor’s comfort. To me, good design is design you’re not aware of.”

In that regard A CHORUS LINE was a challenge, since nearly all the cast members wore slouchy rehearsal clothes until the spectacular closing number, which Ms. Aldredge envisioned as a visual feast of champagne coloured tuxedos and top hats. MICHAEL BENNETT had wanted blazing red. No, she told him.

Champagne was the colour of celebration.

To generate ideas, she sat in on rehearsals, taking Polaroid pictures of each dancer.

“I just borrowed from what they brought,” Ms. Aldredge said. “I took it as a compliment if people thought, ‘Well, they’re wearing their own clothes.’”

Ms. Aldredge designed for opera, ballet and television, as well as the theatre and in a curious detour in the 1980s she produced a ready to wear line for JANE FONDA called JANE FONDA WORKOUTS.

For THE GREAT GATSBY she generated hundreds of costumes in less than two weeks, a Herculean effort that might account for her irritation when the fashion press turned the spotlight on RALPH LAUREN, who took credit for designing the clothes worn by ROBERT REDFORD and the film’s other male leads. Ms. Aldredge insisted that he had merely executed designs to her specifications.

MICHAEL GROSS, in his Lauren biography GENUINE AUTHENTIC, wrote that Ms. Aldredge asked PARAMOUNT to take Mr. Lauren’s name off the film’s credits if he continued to bask in the limelight. His name stayed, in a secondary position, but Ms. Aldredge pointedly omitted his name when accepting her OSCAR for the film.

The friction with Mr. Lauren was out of character for Ms. Aldredge, who had a history of working happily with even the most high strung actors. She did know when to draw the line, however.

“Once an actress went overboard with notes to me about how she doesn’t wear pink,” she told THE CHICAGO SUN TIMES in 2006.

“I told her, ‘Well, don’t wear it home then, sweetie. This is the theatre.’ You kind of have to humour them. If you can’t love actors, you probably shouldn’t be a costume designer.”

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