Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ten Travilla quotes on Marilyn Monroe

"She was the most feminine woman, the most perfect girl I'd ever known. I can't remember a flaw." - September 1990 L.A. Times

"She was a special lady, and no one's ever going to copy her. They can try, but no one has ever been able to do it." - March 1983 Lakeland Ledger

"The day that I met Marilyn Monroe, although she was only a 'stock actress', I knew she had the quality to become a great star. She had everything in the world the public wants--the youth, the beauty, an exciting sex quality, coupled with that adorable childlike appeal. The tremendous sex symbol she became, along with her childlike quality which takes the harshness and obviousness off straight sex, was evident at that first meeting." - September 1969 Daily Herald

"There was a time when Marilyn would walk into the studio cafe and everyone would look at her aghast. She had a greased-look effect. I was so beatnik, so awful, so planned. But she never failed to turn a head. She taught me that if a woman wants to look awful, she should look real awful." - Austin Herald August 1961

"There was a sunburst-pleated gold-lame gown that I had designed for 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.' Since the material was not too solid, Marilyn wore a flesh-colored slip under the dress in the film. Some months later, she decided to attend the Photoplay Awards in that dress, but without the slip. Since she had put on a little weight, she had to have a high colonic before she could get into it. When she arrived that night, undulating her posterior, it was really a scandal." - September 1980 L.A. Times

"She does something to clothes that does something to men." - December 1954 Walter Winchell column

"I'm going to have my precious baby standing over a grate. I want her to look fresh and clean. The dress was cool and clean in a dirty, dirty, city" - September 1990 L.A. Times

"If you've ever know paradise, that was Marilyn." - September 1990 L.A. Times

"Underneath that, Marilyn wore Marilyn." - 1981 L.A. Times

"Marilyn was two people. One would come in for a fitting, giggling and darling. She'd sit in my lap like a 5-year-old girl. Then, in a split second, she'd be the most sensuous woman who ever lived." - September 1990 L.A. Times

"I wish she had called me when she was in her deep depression, I think I could have helped her." - September 1969 Daily Herald

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Journey to Africa and it's influences -

Travilla's love of travel can easily be traced back to his maternal grandmother, Estelle Ryan Snyder, who had done the same with his mother Bessie. Estelle included her daughter at a very early age in her journeys as one of the first female travel journalists, taking her by train to California and then Seattle for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. The family also traveled to Canada and Germany and many U.S. cities. In the late 1920s, Estelle took an extended trip to Africa where she took thousands of photographs and shot thousands of feet of film. In later years, often accompanied by her grandson Billie, Ryan would give lectures while showing photographs and film footage at churches and community halls around Los Angeles. 

Grand-mama circa 1910
Several years later, she would also take him on a four week vacation to Hawaii and the South Sea Island of Pago, Pago which as stated in the Ann Sheridan entry, got him his job at Warner Brothers. The second woman was Ann Sheridan. "Aunt Annie" had been a long time friend who not only got him established at Warner Brothers, but also helped him launch his private "Travilla" label. In Fall of 1957 Sheridan returned from Kenya where she had been filming "Woman and the Hunter" and began a series of paintings based on what she'd seen. Only reigniting Travilla's desire to experience the Dark Continent for himself.

Flocks of airborne birds create the pattern for Ginger Roger's gown in 1952's "Dreamboat."
Tiger print dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch" and featured on the side of Soundstage 10 on the Fox lot.
But starting a design house takes time and it wasn't until late 1960 Travilla left for a months-long research trip to both Greece and Africa. Heading to Khartoum and the village of Torit near the Belgian Congo, home of the Letuka warriors,

Travilla poses with natives during trip.
Travilla packed several cameras, and also "loaded up with all the odd costume jewelry in my fitting rooms to barter with the natives in Arica; especially the glitter pieces - an assortment of rhinestones, fake rubies, emeralds, etc." But this created trouble. "I had this junk in small sacks, and it caused a delay at the Greek customs. For a brief time I was suspected as a jewelry smuggler. But it really paid off where I doled it out in exchange for taking pictures. Most of the tribes, even in the remote villages are very hep about revenue of one kind and another."

African inspired fashion sketches circa 1963
From the Samburu tribe in the northern frontier of Kenya, he came back with the "merkcani" a single piece of cotton cloth that "after endless years of practice in draping and the tieing a single piece of the cloth as his sole garment, the Samburu achieves great grace and dignity with his mantle." "They are stunning people with chocolate skin and the women's necks are elongated from wearing many rings of necklaces and they carry themselves with great elegance."

The "Samburu" with earring detail.
Travilla created his version of the "Samburu" for the Spring Summer 1963 collection of which "I have tried to translate into this collection the purity of line and the surprising elegance found in the centuries-old methods of draping fabrics used by the natives of the dark continent." He even created special jewelry, two inch bar-shaped with textured gold and pearl tips which seemed to pierce the ear lobe, similar to the carved spears with which the Samburu actually did pierce ears with.

Various African-inspried fashion sketches 1950s-80s
Travilla again introduced an unusual piece of jewelry in 1968 with his "face leash" - a jeweled, rhinestone band across the chine and forehead, held secure by looping it over each ear.

Face leash in sketch on right, which is a retail version using the same lace as his "Julia" dress, but reversing the placement.
Another Face Leash sketch with model wearing finished garment and jewelry.
Travilla's private label and his work in both film and television kept his busy over the next few years, but he always felt the pull from half-way across the world, telling the L.A. Times in September 1969. "Did you ever hear of Jean Pierre Hallet? If I were anybody else, I'd want to be him--witter, adventurer, explorer, anthropologist. I've met and entertained nearly everybody--presidents, world leaders, great stage and movie figures. I wish I could go to Africa or maybe Pitcairn Island."

"Valley of the Dolls," Diahann Carroll in "Julia," and Jack Cassidy in "He and She."
Actress Julie Sommars from "The Governor and J.J."  in 1970 TV Guide fashion layout.
Travilla would meet Hallet within a year as a January 1971 L.A. Times article states "Travilla introduced his new friend Hallet who brought from Katanga a jewelry collection of 500 hand wrought copper and malachite pieces. He also mentioned his next trip to the Congo to stay with the pygmies along with Hallot, a blood brother to them despite his 6ft 6 inch height."

Outfit from 1971 which is heavily inspired by the intricate collars worn by tribe members.

Two more examples from the late 1960s.
Travilla returned to Africa many times, especially for extended periods during his four-year self-imposed exile from the fashion and film industry in the mid-1970s.

Palm Springs Exhibit 2009
Palm Springs Exhibit 2009
Close-ups of Travilla's artwork on display in Palm Springs 2009
The two gold framed photographs in the middle photo above were proudly displayed in his downtown studio as mentioned in a June 1990 L.A.Times article. And the close-ups of his more personal art shows how much he loved his experiences there aside from his talents as a fine-artist. In fact he told a reporter in September 1990 "I go to really rough places in Africa. The people are beautiful--the colors, the warriors, the beads. The more primitive the people, the better."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Diahann Carroll - Variety is the Spice of Life in Travilla

Starting with 1968's  "Frances Albert Sinatra Does His Own Thing," Carroll appeared wearing Travilla in numerous variety style programs where she entertained millions with her incredible vocal talents.

Screencaps from Sinatra special along with sketch and photo from LIFE Magazine.

"The Bob Goulet Show Starring Robert Goulet." - Miss Carroll, beautifully gowned by Bill Travilla shone both alone and with Goulet in a rousing "Make Your Own Kind of Music." This special was handsomely designed throughout, but its high point was Miss Carroll's numbers, in which the singer performed in a series glittering, abstract settings. - April 1970 L.A. Times

With Bob Hope in unknown appearance.
In April 1971 she headlined "The Diahann Carroll Special" which included an extraordinary fashion show with Diahann in gowns by Travilla, photographed in a cotton field in Bakersfield, at the Watts Tower, on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles, and at the Descanso Gardens set to the tune of "If My Friends Could See Me Now."

Most probably from her 1971 variety special.
Two variations for Travilla's private label.
"The Hollywood Palace" was a variety series taped before a live studio audience at the Hollywood Playhouse near Hollywood and Vine. Over it's five-year run, Carroll appeared several times as a guest and twice in late 1969 as hostess.

Carroll sings with Perry Como wearing a red velvet and jeweled version of the "Julia" dress.
Letter from Carroll to Travilla regarding her Palace wardrobe from a 1968 appearance.
Their close friendship was also quite evident on a 1979 episode of "Dinah" devoted to Hollywood glamour sharing a laugh over the story of him bringing his entire new line to her house  to choose something for her appearance and Carroll instead deciding to wear an outfit from one of her shows a decade before.

The retail version of a gown created for one of Carroll's specials.

Diahann Carroll - Fox Fashion Show

Just two months shy after "Julia" premiered, the California Fashion Creators, the Wool Bureau and 20th Century Fox hosted one hundred visiting members of the fashon press on one of the studio's soundstages where "Hello Dolly" was currently in production. 

They sure do know how to butter up the press in Hollywood!
Dining on prime rib in the $600,000 "Harmony Gardens" set where Barbara Streisand descended the red staircase singing the film's title song in a lavish ten-minute production number, reporters were instead treated to shows by several California designers.

Since "Julia" was filmed on the Fox lot and Travilla's Spring collection featured many of the same outfits in various colors and fabrics (including wool) worn by Carroll on the show, it was she, not Streisand who came the staircase after Travilla's introduction*.

"Seldom does a designer ever find a true inspiration for which to create. I have dressed most of the beautiful women of the world including Loretta Young, a fashion image, Marilyn Monroe, a sex symbol. In Diahann I have found what I truly believe to be the very image of being a woman."

Wearing a white wool crepe pajama outfit with flared legs, long sleeves, cuff neckoine and Travilla's concept of the "naked belt" - a three-inch bared midriff accented with vertical stripes of rhinestones.

Two publicity photos from that day!
Two variations on Travilla's "nude belt" concept for his label.
Following Carroll was "a train of models wearing Travilla's jacket and dress costumes, coats and suits, and flowing pleated chiffon evening dresses - all scene stealers." according to the Corpus Christi Texas reporter.

Enlargement from first photo. Travilla in red jacket far left.
Dress that appears on model in photo and also second from right in fashion show above. 
In the photo above the model on the left is wearing what became known as the "Julia" dress as Carroll wore it for several episodes of the series. A gown made of grey silk organza with rich brown Venitian Lace on the bodice and upper sleeves as well as trimming the cuffs. On a 1979 episode of the Dinah (Shore) talk show, Travilla told how he created a version for his daughter Nia to wear to her high school graduation.

The "Julia"
As with other designs, Travilla created several variations changing the fabric and bodice/trim material. Carroll would wear one on the cover of TV Guide as well as other Travilla fashions accompanying the interior text.

The far right sketch is the one for the dress below. Made with fully-lined silk and intricate beading, it weighs several pounds. Actress Julie Sommars from "The Governor and J.J.," another series Travilla was designing for models the gown, which might have been worn on her series or for a fashion photo shoot.

*Carroll would also serve as mistress-of-ceremonies for Travilla's annual benefit fashion show for the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and as hostess for a "Fashion in Future" event featuring her friend among several other designers.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Diahann Carroll - Oh You Beautiful Doll

In 1969, after the first year of success with the television series, toy manufacturer Mattel issued the first of two Julia dolls which featured a simple twist-and-trun action and came dressed in a white nurses uniform with matching hat and white shoes. Later the same year, Mattel release a more spohisticated second doll that came attired in a sparkling gold and silver sleeveless one-piece jumpsuit spoke and uttered such phrases as "Hi! My name is Julia.", "Would you like to be an actress?" and "Nursing is great fun." when the string in her back was pulled.

Sold separately were several ensembles based on the outfits worn by actress Diahann Carroll on the show,  dresses or separates including matching shoes and accessories such as outerwear, purses or hats. Though the same size at Mattel's other popular dolls, the Julia is one of a few who has her own tagged wardrobe that was specifically designed for her, most certainly with Travilla's input.


"Leather Weather" - Red double-breasted coat, pink sleeveless top, red, blue, pink and white plaid mini skirt, red pilgrim shoes and a matching red clutch bag.

"Candlelight Capers" - Orange with gold metallic threads knit top, yellow velvet mini skirt with gold braid trim, yellow velvet cape with matching gold trim, faux fur trimmed hat and matching pilgrim shoes.

"Brrr-Furr Blue" - Lime green silk sheath bodice with aqua textured skirt and belt, matching 3/4 jacket with faux lime fur trim and aqua vinyl belt, lime green faux fur hat and aqua pilgrim shoes. (A slight variation has darker green rather than lime.)

"Pink Fantasy" - Rose tricot gown, lace bodice, sleeveless robe with tiers in three shades of pink with rosette and ribbon tie, gold slippers with rose poufs.

Variations on two outfits were also available.

Candlelight Capers - Solid gold top, yellow velvet mini skirt with gold braid trim, yellow velvet cape with matching gold trim, faux fur trimmed hat and matching pilgrim shoes.

Brrr-Furr Red - White silk sheath bodice with red and white tweed skirt and red belt, matching 3/4 length jacket with faux white fur trim and red vinyl belt, white faux fur hat and white pilgrim shoes.

And the "Holy Grail" of outfits would be "Simply Wow"  with a blue and white bodice top with blue jacket, both trimmed in gold and matching pilgrim shoes. Only offered with the talking Julia exclusively at Sears.

They were very popular with little girls and are still today with collectors. Individual pieces range from $25-75, and complete sets between $150 to $300 with rarer variations commanding upwards of $750 or more in the original unopened packaging.

Several variations of paper dolls were also produced during the show's run. Travilla possibly had input on the designs, but certainly not the colors. I mean, that striped top?

Diahann Carroll - Julia 1968

In the summer of 1968, it was announced that Travilla was selected to design the gowns and nurse's uniforms to be worn by Diahann Carroll for her starring role in "Julia" debuting on NBC in the fall. Carroll was to play Julia Baker, a young widow whose husband was killed in the Vietnam War that moves into an integrated apartment building in Los Angeles with her young son Corey. She finds employment at a local aerospace company where she is one of two nurses for a grumpy, but lovable doctor.

Carroll was a veteran of Broadway, film, and numerous appearances on television variety shows so she was well known by the mostly white viewing audience. Her elegance and grace would hopefully smoothly usher in the acceptance of a television series where the lead actress was Black.

"A true inspiration for which to create." - Travilla 1968
Originally, producer Hal Kanter did not envision Carroll's image as matching the role of Julia Baker. He changed his mind,  however, when she arrived at the interview "simple and understated" in a black wool suit with a short skirt. But the actress did let him know her preferences, later telling the press "Clothes are very important to me. When we started filming I told this to our producer Hal Kanter. And that's how Travilla stared designing for me. How lucky can a woman be? I do so enjoy wearing beautiful clothes."  

But once in production, Kanter's decision seemed to backfire as many critics felt with Carroll's sophisticated image, viewers would not believe her in the role of a nurse and mother, especially appearing in the numerous stylish outfits she did. In fact, predicted before the series started that Carroll would appear on the "Best Dressed List" came true when she was honored as one of 1968's "Most Imaginative Women in Current Fashion" along with Streisand and the Baron de Tothschild among others.

Six of Travilla's onscreen creations.
Travilla himself spoke to the press about the issue telling them, "In the first place, Julia supposed to sew her own clothes. Scenes have been arranged showing her doing so. Anyone should know that women on a budget are sewing by the millions just in order to have elegant clothes. To think of a working-girl look for Julia a out-of-date snobishness. That's a hand-over from the Thirties. People who talk that way annoy me with their ignorance. Because of that mentality, we felt we had to give Diahann Carroll a reason for being well-dressed in the series, when the truth was, she could have look just as well in regular commercial clothes."

Carroll in robe mentioned below on Belgian trading card, publicity photo, actual robe.
"I did a  white wool fringed house-robe for Diahnn which she and the producer both thought was too luxurious looking even if Julia made it herself. When I told them a copy could have been bought for $35 to $50, it was used. There's plenty of good fashion today at low prices. If a woman like Julia were badly dressed, it would be the fault of her taste, not a lack of clothes to be bought or made." 

Julia's robe is a variation in ribbed fabric from one worn by Barbara Parkins in
Valley of the Dolls. Seen here with Patty Duke in a Travilla creation.

However in 1984 he told the L.A. Times "Realism on that level wasn't important -- seeing Diahann look terrific was a lot more fun."

Designed for Carroll and possibly his upcoming fashion line.
Closer views of Carroll wearing coat. Fabric is raw silk.
Almost exact duplicate in my collection.
Travilla used the same costume for Karen Mossberger in "The Big Cube"  (though mis-identified as Sharon Tate) as well for an episode of "Julia."
Travilla's design and Carroll in her wedding dress from show. Gown among part of collection lost to fire shortly after Travilla's death.
Always ahead of the fashion trends and Carroll as a fashion leader, when the mini-skirt started creeping towards the midi, it created an issue between designer, star and producer. Hal Kanter told reporters "he would go along with anything designer Travilla dictated, 'but I'll raise the hemline two inches.'" Diahann Carroll "confesses that she feels 'absolutely ridiculous' in the midi fashions she must wear for the series they're shooting now for fall in this hot, hot weather. And in spite of it of Diahann's objections that she doesn't dig the long-skirt scene, desinger Bill Travilla has decreed that she has to go the midi route or look absolutely out of it." Travilla's solution was to put Carroll in pants when she's on hospital duty and to have some of her skirted uniforms cover the knee. But it soon became a mute point as the series ended in 1971.

However, it was quite a productive 1968-71 for the duo's partnership that continued until Travilla's death in 1990.