Hollywood History: William Travilla


While the subject of the monthly Hollywood History lesson on My Little Boudoir is typically an actress, this month the lesson will be much different (but not too far away from the roots of My Little Boudoir). Meet William Travilla.


He is responsible for this…


Born on Catalina Island, just off the California coast, William Travilla had a passion for art from a very young age. He attended the prestigious Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles, where he was advanced to adult classes at the age of eight. As a teenager, the burlesque clubs that he passed on his way to school began to pique his interest. Before long he began to frequent the clubs where he took his artistic talent to the next level by selling costume sketches to the dancers. The cost…three for five dollars. Here is an example of one of his showgirl sketches.


As a young man Travilla received a $5,000 inheritance and used it to travel the world. However, about a year into his journey the U.S. entered into WWII, and with Travilla being of draft age, he returned home to the United States. As luck would have it though, Travilla was declared 4F due to flat feet, and instead of going to war, was able to return to his passion…art. It was around this time that Travilla began looking for work in Hollywood. After a few failed attempts, Travilla was forced to make ends meet by selling sketches of the South Pacific (inspired by his travels)  at a local hot spot Don The Beachcomber, where a special young woman began collecting his work. This young woman was actress Ann Sheridan. They developed a friendship and she eventually brought him to the Warner lot to become her personal costume designer.

Travilla went on to design award winning costumes and eventually transitioned from Warner to Fox where he met a woman who would do something for his gowns that no other woman in history would have. For the costumes he designed for this bombshell are, even today, well known among women. The famous 36-23-36 hour glass silhouette who donned these gowns was none other than Marilyn Monroe.


Over the course of just a few years, Travilla had designed costumes for eight of Monroe’s films. Many of these have gone down in history as some of his best work and some of her most iconic looks. Here are some of Travilla’s sketches of the famous costumes.

Seven Year Itch


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

William Travilla Sketch (lovingmarilyn.com)



There’s No Business Like Show Business



Although Marilyn Monroe was undoubtedly Travilla’s most legendary muse, he designed for around 270 celebrities. Here is a small handful…

Loretta Young


Marlene Dietrich


Joanne Woodward


Jane Russell


Travilla passed away in 1990 and his collection of sketches and original gowns was bequeathed to his long-time partner and best friend, Bill Sarris. In an effort to make William Travilla the household name that he should be, Bill agreed to let the collection be shown. The proceeds go to the UK Society of Alzheimer’s, of which,  Bill Sarris has been sadly diagnosed with. The collection is shown by their dear friend Andrew Hansford.

The collection has been displayed at a few locations both in the U.S. and the U.K. I wish so badly I could have had the opportunity to see it in person. I closely follow travillatour.com and the William Travilla Facebook page (I recommend you become a fan), where I watch (and patiently wait) for a new location to be announced. I believe the collection can be sponsored for exhibits. Here are some photos of Travilla’s award-winning designs that are part of the exhibit:


(facebook.com – Travilla Tour page)

*Source travillatour.com


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  1. Oh, this page is such a treat! Thank you for finding all these wonderful renditions of Travilla’s costumes.

    • annonomous on September 4, 2010 at 6:56 am
    • Reply

    thank you so much for making this site, your information has been so useful for my school project on Travilla!

    • Melanie Triantos on September 25, 2010 at 5:35 pm
    • Reply


    I am the grandaughter of a cousin to Billy Saris, and I am in possession of 4 of Bill Travilla dresses from the 1950’s. Our grandmother owned a dress shop on El Camino Real in So. San Francisco area, carrying many of his designs, including a black replica of the Marilyn Monroe dress from the film “The Seven Year Itch”. I am trying to get some feedback on how to go about possibly selling these dresses and what kind of price I might be able to ask for them.

    If you can help me out in any way, please respond back to this email.



  2. Amazing. Well done.

    • Eric Woodard on March 2, 2011 at 6:39 pm
    • Reply

    The sketch you say is one of Travilla’s earlier burlesque sketches dates much later, probably from his Fox Studio years. No examples of those designs exist in the Estate’s archives. Or none that we’ve discovered as of yet.

    • Sophie on May 2, 2011 at 4:38 am
    • Reply

    I had to do a school project on a fashion designer and I imediately thought of Travilla.the only problem is I couldn’t find much on him until I came here. Thanks so much. I hope I get a good mark.

  3. Very interesting info! From one designer to another cool sitelayout. Just the inspiration I was looking for!

    • Oralei Fauble on August 21, 2012 at 1:01 am
    • Reply

    I have an original fashion design sketch by Travilla. I would love to find out who it was designed for. Do you have any suggestions?
    Kind Regards

      • Sarah on August 25, 2012 at 10:05 am
      • Reply

      Good afternoon.

      I would recommend contacting Andrew Hansford, who ran the Travilla Collection displays in the U.S. And U.K. He also wrote the book “Dressing Marilyn” about William Travilla, and became close friends with Travilla’s partner. You can contact him through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/WilliamTravilla/.

      Thank you for following My Little Boudoir.

      Kindest regards,


    • Kimberleigh on October 24, 2018 at 1:57 pm
    • Reply

    Interesting fact that proceeds for this go to a fund in the U.K. not the U.S. where he is actually from – it should be shared …..sad

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