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Obituaries

B. Hargate, 68; Costume Designer for 'Murphy Brown' Won 4 Emmys

September 19, 2003|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Bill Hargate, a Hollywood costume designer who won four Emmy awards for his work in television, has died. He was 68.

Hargate, who had been ill with leukemia, died Sept. 12 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The designer set fashion trends in the late 1980s when he created a modern career look for Murphy Brown, a news anchorwoman played by Candice Bergen in the show named after her character. Brown's wardrobe of designer label outfits by Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren was built around colorful blazers, short skirts and high heels for the office. Her baseball cap for weekends became a staple for many women.

"Women have thanked me because they think the way Murphy dresses has helped them to dress for the workplace," Hargate said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1994.

Murphy, the show's main character, averaged five costume changes per show. Hargate oversaw wardrobe for the entire cast. For Corky, played by Faith Ford, he followed the dress code of Miss America Beauty Pageant winners, who were expected to wear long-sleeved tops for day.

At the height of Murphy Brown's popularity, Hargate added a second weekly sitcom to his workload: "Love and War," which was introduced in 1992 and starred Susan Dey and later Annie Potts. The show was about a woman who owned a restaurant and wore a cook's apron for every episode.

"Those white coats that chefs wear are so boring," Hargate said at the time. He added colors and prints.

"We started getting letters from people saying, 'Nobody would ever wear that for cooking,' " Hargate told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1994. "I said, 'I don't care, they're fun to look at.' "

Since then, more and more professional chefs have traded their traditional white cotton kitchen jackets for jackets in striped seersucker, black with red embroidery or other unconventional options.

Hargate and Potts became close friends. She was the presenter in 2001 when he was chosen for the Career Achievement in Television Award by the Costume Designers Guild.

"Bill loved women and had an incredible talent for making them look wonderful," Potts told The Times this week. "Besides that, he was the most fun person I knew. All we did was laugh."

In recent years, he was best-known for his work on television sitcoms and variety shows, but his first love was theater. When he was growing up in St. Louis, his grandmother bought him season tickets to local productions from the time he was 6.

He studied costume and set design at the Goodman School of Theater in Chicago and began his career with the St. Louis Municipal Opera. In 1979, he designed costumes for the Broadway revivals of "Peter Pan" and "Oklahoma!"

From the early '70s, however, he spent most of his time at NBC's Burbank studios, where the wardrobe department produced hundreds of costumes each week, from beaded gowns for stars to foam fat-suits for comedians.

He became close friends with Barbara Mandrell when he was costume designer for the weekly show "Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters" in the early 1980s.

"I'll never forget the fabulous creations Bill made for all of us," Mandrell told The Times this week.

She also wore Hargate creations for her tours and television specials.

"Sometimes I'd call him and say I needed a gown within four or five days," said Mandrell. "I'd go to his shop, try it on and bam! It was a perfect fit."

In 1985, Hargate founded Bill Hargate Costumes in Los Angeles, which supplied wardrobes for movies, theater and television. But he also kept a number of private clients, including actress Geena Davis, who wore Hargate gowns to four Academy Awards shows. Each was an engineering feat. One in particular, with a curved and plunging neckline, made the front page of national newspapers in 1993.

Hargate is survived by his mother, Jennell Hargate; a brother, James; a nephew; and his companion of 43 years, Ted Sprague.

Donations may be made to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 6033 W. Century Blvd., Suite 300, Los Angeles, CA 90045.

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