Designing for the Ages and That Girl’s Ann Marie

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.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

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.

Photo: pinterest.com

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.

Photo: pinterest.com

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.

Photo: ebth.com
Marilyn Lewis

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.

Photo: hamburgerhamlet.com

They opened the first restaurant in 1950 with $3500 and sold the chain of a dozen eateries in 1997 for $33 million.

Photo: hamburgerhamlet.com

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.

Photo: pinterest.com

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.

Photo: imdb.com
Photo: nytimes.com

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.

Photo: pinterest.com
Photo: pinterest.com

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.

Photo: pinterest.com

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.

Photo: pinterest.com

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.”

Photo:fusionmovies.to

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.

Photo: pinterst.com
Photo: pinterest.com

Please Report to Room 222

Last week we continued to paid homage to the Friday night schedule of shows airing in 1970 and 1971, learning about The Odd Couple. Today we continue that theme as we meet the cast of Room 222.

Debuting in 1969, Room 222 produced 113 episodes by 1974 when it was cancelled for low ratings. The show, one of the first dramedies, was a more serious counterpart to the later-seen Welcome Back Kotter.

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The series was created by James Brooks who wrote for That Girl and The Andy Griffith Show and would go on to create Taxi, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and Lou Grant. What all these shows have in common is a group of characters who have a depth and sophisticated writing that captures the realistic language and behavior of individuals in their settings.

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The show featured Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine), the principal of Walt Whitman High School, a racially mixed school in Los Angeles; American history teacher Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haines); the guidance counselor (and Pete’s girlfriend) Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas); and student teacher Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine). The four staff members were friends, but they did not always agree.  They debated issues and solutions but always with respect. Kaufman displayed a dry humor and could make Dixon laugh. Dixon was the easy-going, wise, and insightful thinker in the bunch. Liz was compassionate while Alice was enthusiastic and idealistic, but a bit naïve. The staff members invest in the students, acting as surrogate parents teaching them important life lessons. The other staff member we get to know is Miss Hogarth (Patsy Garrett), Mr. Kaufman’s secretary.

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We also spend a lot of time with several students who interacted with staff members in the classroom and occasionally outside of school. There was Richie Lane the Brain (Howard Rice); Jason Allen, tough guy (Heshimu Cumbuka); Pamela, Miss Popular (Ta-Tanisha); Helen Loomis, shy but thoughtful (Judy Strangis); and Bernie, the sports jock and class clown (David Joliffe). Although students were a large part of the show, many episodes focused on the teachers and administrators.

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Room 222 is Dixon’s classroom where the students are given free range to discuss topics from a variety of viewpoints.  Some of the issues were topical such as the Vietnam war, women’s lib, and Watergate; however, most of the debates could be pulled from today’s headlines:  race relations, shoplifting, drug use, illiteracy, police presence in schools, dress codes, guns in schools, and teen pregnancy. Dixon lets the students lead many discussions, but he preaches tolerance and the ability to see things from others’ shoes. He is respected and liked by his students.

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Imdb.com summarized the pilot episode as: Pete Dixon teaches history in Room 222 at Walt Whitman High School. Principal Seymour Kaufman introduces Pete to Alice Johnson, a perky but painfully insecure student teacher. Pete’s most enthusiastic student is Richie Lane, who goes so far as to dress a lot like Pete and even takes roll in his absence. But Guidance Counselor Liz McIntire has discovered some disturbing news about Richie — the home address he submitted is fake, suggesting that he may not live in the school district, and therefore might be ineligible to keep attending Whitman.

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Many guest stars showed up at Walt Whitman High including Ed Begley Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, Jamie Farr, Teri Garr, Mark Hamill, Bernie Kopell, Donny Most, Chuck Norris, Rob Reiner, Kurt Russell, and Cindy Williams.

The show was originally on Wednesday nights, and the ratings weren’t great. The network was planning on cancelling the series, but then the show won the Emmy for Outstanding New Series, Michael Constantine won for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, and Karen Valentine won for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. The show was moved to the Friday night line up between The Partridge Family and The Odd Couple where its ratings soared.

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The first season used a laugh track which was not used for subsequent seasons, helping to add drama to the show.

The theme song was written by Jerry Goldsmith. He would go on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards for music, winning for The Omen. A series of novels was created based on the show by William Johnston in the early 1970s, and Dell Comics published four issues about Room 222 in 1970-1971.

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The show propelled Valentine to star status. Mark Voger interviewed her online for New Jersey Advance Media for NJ.com on October 25, 1970. Part of his article is quoted below:

“I had gone in to meet the casting person for ‘Room 222,'” the Santa Rosa, Calif., native told me during a telephone interview some years back.

He took down the color of my eyes and the color of my hair, and I was dismissed. Nothing happened for a number of months.

Then I was called in again to meet with (series producer) Gene Reynolds. When you talk about naivete — the character of Alice Johnson was a bit of a bumbler and very naive and just wet behind the ears.

When I read for Gene, everything imaginable went wrong. I mean, I went to put my purse down, and I had sunglasses on my head; they fell off. I went to pick those up, the pages went all over the floor. I had to pick those up.

I looked up at him and I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I’m really rather chic, you know. This is so strange.’ And he said, ‘Don’t change a thing.'”

Valentine believes she’d hit upon the essence of the character that Reynolds sought.

She continued: “After I read, I was leaving the office. He said, ‘Don’t get hit by a car.’ And I thought, ‘Boy, this is a good sign. It’s the first time anyone cared whether I was dead or alive in this town.'” . . .

“It was a real forerunner for integrated shows,” Valentine said. “It was the first show, I think, that showed blacks and whites interacting so well together, and role models in teachers and counselors. It was so well accepted that in certain parts of the country, ‘Room 222’ was required viewing by some of the teachers and principals and administrative staffs around different schools.”

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While the hair-do’s and clothing tie the show to the early 1970s, the scripts could easily be part of current television shows. I’m not sure if that is positive because the show was so well written or if it’s negative because we are dealing with these issues almost 50 years later without much progress. Either way, taking some time to watch the show will be time well spent.

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