Marilyn’s most celebrated costume designer, William ‘Billy’ Travilla, is featured in a new TCM book, Viva Hollywood: The Legacy of Latin and Hispanic Artists in American Film. He began his career at Warner Brothers, winning an Oscar for Adventures of Don Juan (1949), before moving to Twentieth Century-Fox.
“There he met Monroe and began working with the rising star,” Luis Reyes writes. “As Monroe became the studio’s most important female star and a global sex symbol, Travilla literally fashioned an essential element of Marilyn’s appearance and imagery that retains its influence today … He designed the wardrobe for eight films with Monroe and, on many occasions, for her personal use to wear at events. Travilla emphasised Monroe’s curves in his designs, such as the memorable pink gown in the musical number ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend‘ from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He also designed the gold lamé dress from the same film, which at the time was considered risqué.”
Most famous of all, of course, was the billowing white halter-dress Travilla created for Marilyn’s ‘subway grate’ scene in The Seven Year Itch. But his favourite movie was Viva Zapata (1952), starring Marlon Brando as the Mexican revolutionary hero. Marilyn badgered director Elia Kazan for a part, to no avail – her friend Jean Peters was cast instead.
In later years, Travilla designed costumes for the hugely popular TV soap opera, Dallas, while the singer wore a replica of his ‘diamond dress’ for her ‘Material Girl’ video (made for the TV movie, Marilyn: The Untold Story, a few years earlier.)