With this blog, we begin a new series about the people who work behind the scenes to make the characters come to life for us. We are starting with the costume department. The costume or wardrobe designer is one of those people who help make the character real for us. While the job description varies from show to show, the costumer designer typically is in charge of the clothing and accessories. They read the script and determine what type of clothing is needed for each episode. Some shows bring in designers to create the clothing like Norman Miller on Dynasty, some shows send out shoppers to purchase ready-made clothing like My Three Sons, and some combine the activities. On Burns and Allen, Gracie Allen had a shopping day each week, and she picked out her own clothing.
Costume designers typically use clothing to develop a character as they evolve throughout the series.
One of the television shows that is known for its incredible wardrobe is That Girl. Costume designers for the show include Florence Albert, Suzanne Smith, Fern Vollner, and Phyllis Garr, the mother of actress Teri Garr.
Ann Marie moves from small-town Brewster to New York City to pursue her acting career. Her clothes reflect her youth and her fascination with fashion and life in the big city. Marlo Thomas was the force behind every decision of her show. For clothing, she secured the design services of Marilyn Lewis.
Marilyn was raised in Cleveland by her grandmother. Marilyn was interested in fashion, and she sketched designs and did a bit of modeling in Ohio. After her grandmother passed away, she moved to California where she hoped to become an apprentice to an established fashion designer.
In Hollywood she met Harry Lewis and fell in love. Harry was an actor who appeared in a variety of television shows and movies, including Key Largo throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
Harry had dreamed of starting a chain of restaurants where actors could feel comfortable hanging out. As an actor, he also had a goal to play Hamlet. Combine the two aspirations and you have the birth of Hamburger Hamlet.
They opened the first restaurant in 1950 with $3500 and sold the chain of a dozen eateries in 1997 for $33 million.
They also created a separate restaurant called Kate Mantilini’s Dinner House which they sold, bought back, and then opened a second one, so each of their kids had their own. Kate Mantilini was Marilyn’s uncle’s mistress in the 1940s.
Harry realized that his wife put her dreams of working in fashion design on hold for him, and in 1966 he bought her a dress factory. About this time, That Girl was in the planning stages. The choice of Marilyn as designer for the show was both surprising and expected. She was far from an established designer when Thomas hired her to design for Ann Marie. At the same time, Marlo was trying to step out from her famous father’s shadow and earn respect for creating her own show. A show about a girl leaving her teaching career and forgoing marriage to move to a large city and live alone and pursue a career is not out of the ordinary today, but it was in the mid-1960s.
Lewis was the perfect choice for designer. Lewis described her clothing as having a “whispering signature.” She went on to say that “California gives me great light, so I use color.” Lewis named her line Cardinali. Her first batch of designs included 35 suits, gowns, and dresses. Saks Fifth Avenue was her first customer, selling her clothing for $300-$2400 per piece. Today those items would cost $2000-$16,000.
Color was definitely an important element in 1960s clothing. Women weren’t afraid of color. You could find deep jewel tones, bright neons, and bold patterns galore.
Marilyn used the best fabrics she could import from Italy. Her early pieces included a wool boucle coat with matching purse and hat and a flowing summer dress with a scarf. Similar items can be seen on That Girl. She said she designed her clothing for a career girl who got dressed up at night. Similarly, Ann Marie dressed practically, but pretty, during the day and chose more glamorous looks for evening.
While looking at one of her ruffled chiffon party dresses, Lewis described it as “sexy and discreet at the same time. Always the contrast. And that’s me. I always have a little reserve in me. But never so much that I won’t wink at you and get the job done.” Ann Marie definitely picked up on that design vibe.
Her clothing on That Girl is also a contrast. While Ann’s wardrobe evokes the classic style of the 1960s, it is also timeless, and many of her outfits could be worn today.
Lewis became very successful in her Cardinali line. She was worn by many celebrities, as well as California first-lady Nancy Reagan and socialite Betsy Bloomingdale. Her clothes had a European flair not found in other American designers.
Ann Marie’s wardrobe was anything but boring, and Lewis strove hard for that look. She once commented that “There would be no true boredom if a woman would realize she could paint herself like an artist painting a canvas. It would be a tremendous lift to her spirits.”
During the height of her popularity in 1977, Lewis walked away from the fashion industry. But her design features are still influencing women. Marlo Thomas also continued to be regarded as a fashionista.
After the demise of That Girl, she went on to become McCall’s Director of Women’s Interests, a role that allowed her to become a model for sewing patterns that sold for $1.50 under the name “Marlo’s Corner.” She also wrote a monthly column for their counter book.
Though Lewis was hired to help create the character of Ann Marie, she ended up creating so much more. It’s hard to estimate how many girls growing up in the era of That Girl changed their entire fashion sense watching the show. Every girl dreamed of moving to the big city, getting their own apartment, and having an incredible wardrobe.
Great design is timeless, and Cardinali design was definitely great. The fashions from this era will always have a place in a well-dressed woman’s wardrobe. The pieces combined comfort with beauty and color. Ann Marie’s fashion sense evolved with her character as she gained more confidence. We evolved along with her.