Monday, January 28, 2013

Valley of the Dolls - Sharon Tate

The January 23, 1967 Los Angeles Times announced that Travilla had been tapped by producer David Wolper to design the wardrobe for his upcoming production of "The Valley of the Dolls" based on the book by author Jacqueline Susann. No literary classic, it was a best seller thanks to it tawdry portrayal of the entertainment industry filled with sex, drugs and foul language..

In a pre-production interview, Travilla summed it up as only a designer could. "The story that unfolds weaves the lives of four women together - albeit in different and yet much the same patterns. This in itself poses a problem in depth as the very natures of the people are projected for that which they wear."

Set to begin filming at Fox in February, Travilla had a larger problem as in the first thirty-eight pages of script there were thirty-one costume changes with an estimation of ninety different gowns, ensembles, sportswear and street clothes. The actual total would be "one hundred and thirty-two outfits for the four leading ladies" according to Travilla himself.

Travilla posing on the Fox lot with a few of his sketches.
In an interview given later on-board the film's promotional cruise, Travilla explained his process with "Dolls."  "I didn't have a script so I read the book and then script once I got one. I met with the director and producer and asked how they felt about each character and then I met with the girls and asked them what they liked and didn't like and how they were feeling. Then I sat down with my feelings and captured their feelings too."

Travilla told reporters - "I have never worked with so many small girls as I have in Valley of the Dolls." Patty Duke, who plays Neely is just under 5 feet. Barbara Parkins who plays Anne and Susan Hayward who plays Helen, are both a shade over 5 feet 3 inches and Sharon Tate who plays Jennifer is the tallest at 5 feet and three foruths inches. Because of the difference in figure and character types, each costume called for a different fashion silhouette, yet they all appear taller on the screen because their clothes have been scaled to their size." 

"Jennifer North - a clothes-horse, a flashy show-girl. An ample, no-talent, statuesque, amply-bosomed, stunning girl whose only asset is the display of her body. I dress her extravagantly, daringly. In one scene we practically have to sew her into her gown."

Many believe the character to be based upon Marilyn Monroe who had died less than five years earlier, but it was a combination of several blondes including Monroe, Mansfield and starlet Carol Landis. Played in the film by Sharon Tate, who some felt was perfect casting. Tate was a former beauty queen with numerous appearances on television in such shows as "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Mister Ed" and "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." Her film credits before "Dolls" included "Eye of the Devil" and "The Fearless Vampire Killers."

Different shoulders and neckline treatment, but same pattern.

"Sharon Tate is divine, a real find. Just wait and see what happens when the critics and public see her in Valley of the Dolls. Sharon has everything Marilyn Monroe had and more. She has the fascinating, yet wholly feminine strength of a Dietrich or a Garbo….a classically beautiful face, an exciting figure, the kind of sex appeal and personality appeal to become as glittering a star as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor."

Alternative to final costume below.

Tate and Travilla posing for publicity photos at Fox soundstage.
Travilla however felt differently, not only publicly but personally as well - becoming quite close to the actress during filming to the point of giving her rides home from the studio according to Travilla's buiness partner Bill Sarris. Tate repaid the favor when she appeared with Travilla at the Beverly Hilton and the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Ladies Guild benefit fashion show which was the first public showing of costumes from the film.

Costume sketch for "Neely's wedding."

According to Sarris, after Monroe, Tate was his favorite actress he ever worked with. A sentiment that showed when he told the press weeks after her tragic murder, "I felt that way about Sharon Tate when I first me her on "The Valley of the Dolls" set. She too, had amazing beauty - a more classical beauty than Marilyn's - perfect beauty, a faultless, exciting figure, sex appeal, and with it the same defenseless childlike quality that Marilyn had.

Even unsigned, Tate's stunning beauty is easily identifiable.

"A gentleness that made you want to protect and take care of her. And she could act, too. Both Mark Robson, the director and I had tears in our eyes, as we watched the rushes of one of her scenes. She was a hard worker. Yes -- Sharon could have been a big star."

One only need see her final scene to realize the talent Sharon had and certainly would have built upon had things not turned out the way they did. Seriously, get a copy of "VOD" and see how the camera loved Tate as it did Marilyn and you'll understand Travilla's conclusion.

Tate is also the favorite subject of several fake "Valley of the Doll" sketches I have discovered along my online journey. Most seem to be the work of one "artist" who goes as far as to attached fabric swatches to them for more authenticity. Some have actually sold on eBay and at auction. Once you compare them to the originals posted here, you can easily tell the difference.


  1. I've really enjoyed your week-long Valley of Dolls study. I'm intrigued by the fake sketches. You say that it's easy to tell the difference; but as a novice it's hard for me to see the difference. What is the clear giveaway as to these being fake sketches?

    1. Pat

      First, thank you for enjoying my VOD tribute.

      Second, I apologize for the delay in responding.

      I honestly sometime forget how immersed I've been in Travilla's style of drawing that I think everyone else can see it.

      One thing is the signature which looks to be drawn slowly rather than in the fluid motion Travilla used.

      Also, too much imagery on the board with two drawings, background, fabric sample and information. The "artist" crammed several aspects of his work into one piece. Travilla's work is cleaner and the rendering of the human form doesn't look like it was done by a high school student.

      Hopefully if one were investing in purchasing a particular designer, especially in today's market, I hope they would do an incredible amount of research beforehand.



  2. I loved reading this very much! I am a published paper doll artist, and have just finished a Sharon Tate paper doll...a "pet" project, since she has long been my favorite movie star! I am starting on the wardrobe from "Valley of the Dolls", so this was a great find! =-)