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
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…
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: