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Bill Travilla; Won Emmys, Oscar for Costume Design

November 10, 1990|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Travilla, the Academy Award- and Emmy-winning Hollywood costume designer known for clothing Marilyn Monroe and a host of other stars, has died. He was 69.

Travilla died Nov. 2 of cancer at Good Samaritan Medical Center, his business partner and close friend, Bill Sarris, said Friday.

Nominated five times for an Academy Award, Travilla won his Oscar for designing the costumes for Errol Flynn and the rest of the cast in Flynn's classic film "The Adventures of Don Juan."

Nominated for Emmys seven times, Travilla won twice--for costumes in the television movie "Movieola" in 1980 and for episodes of "Dallas" in 1985.

Creating costumes for such actresses as Monroe, Betty Grable, Jane Russell, and Ann-Margret, Travilla became known as "the man who dresses sex symbols."

But he later opened his own general clothing business and found, he told The Times, that designing for the public was not much different than designing for film stars.

"Let's face it: clothes are camouflage," he said. "Clothes are meant to emphasize the good points and cover up the bad. And almost every person has some of each."

Born on Santa Catalina Island, Travilla as a young man began sketching women and designing clothes to make them look prettier. His lifelong basic theory of clothing design, he frequently stated, was to create garments "to make women look and feel beautiful."

At 24, he became the youngest designer under contract to a major studio when he went to work for Warner Bros.

He later moved to 20th Century Fox, where he met Monroe.

"He was a close friend of Marilyn's," Sarris said, "and he designed everything for her, including that dress in 'Seven Year Itch,' which is called the most famous dress in the world."

"That dress" was a simple pleated halter dress in ecru georgette that swirled up to reveal Monroe's famous legs as she stood over a sidewalk air vent in New York City.

"The dress was cool and clean in a dirty, dirty city," Travilla said in an interview with The Times two months ago. He said the dress was his favorite creation.

Travilla designed costumes for 11 of Monroe's movies. His work for the star was exhibited Sept. 18 at a fashion show in the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

Only the designs and copies of the costumes were shown. The original gowns had all been lost, discarded or sold long ago.

Moving into designing for the general public, Travilla founded his own firm, called "Travilla," in the late 1950s, concentrating on designing while Sarris ran the business end. It was shut down in 1970, Sarris said, "when jeans came in, and the market for well-designed clothing went out."

"My kind of clothes weren't needed," Travilla had told The Times. "It was a bad scene for women."

Travilla took six years off, swimming and diving near Cartagena, Spain, reliving his boyhood pastimes off Catalina.

But Travilla reopened his design house in 1977, concentrating once again on costumes for movies and television. He continued designing full time until his cancer became severe.

During this later period Travilla designed for "Dallas," dressed Faye Dunaway for "Evita," and costumed Jaclyn Smith for her role as the fashionably dressed former First Lady in "The Jackie Kennedy Story."

In 1989, Travilla won the lifetime achievement award of Hispanic Designers Inc.

He is survived by his daughter, Mia Travilla, of Philadelphia, and a sister, Joan Garlow, of Walnut.

Memorial services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Westwood Hills Christian Church, 10808 Le Conte Ave., Westwood.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to Travilla's favorite charity, Child Help USA.

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