Today’s Throwback Thursday is the ultimate, because it’s Walter Plunkett’s birthday! Born today in 1902, Walter Plunkett was Hollywood costume design royalty. He began designing costumes in the late 1920s, and worked up through the 1960s designing for ICONIC films like… Gone With the Wind. Singin’ in the Rain. Stagecoach. Yeah. The guy’s pretty much a god.
Plunkett was born in the next town over from me, Oakland, California, in 1902. He studied law and theater at UC Berkeley, then moved to New York. He got his start designing costumes for a vaudeville act in which he performed. He then got a job with RKO studios, designing for early hits like Rio Rita and Cimarron. At various points he worked with Western Costume Company (the biggest theatrical costume house on the West Coast), eventually freelancing as a costume designer.
It’s hard to name a historical costume film of the 1940s-50s that he DIDN’T design. According to a studio biography written in 1945,
Among Hollywood’s great style designers, Walter Plunkett holds the distinction of being the only one who confines his efforts to period costume, and he is the recognized authority in this field (Producing Gone With the Wind)
He only won one Oscar, shared with designers Orry-Kelly and Irene, for An American in Paris (1951). However, he was also nominated for That Forsyte Woman (1949), The Magnificent Yankee (1950), Kind Lady (1951), Young Bess (1953), The Actress (1953), Raintree County (1957), Some Came Running (1958), Pocketful of Miracles (1961), and How the West Was Won (1962). In 2000, the Costume Designers Guild posthumously awarded him their Hall of Fame award.
Let’s run down some of his historical costume movie highlights. You can see his full filmography at IMDB, of course.
Little Women (1933)
The classic book by Louisa May Alcott, starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo.
The Three Musketeers (1935)
The first English-language talking adaptation.
A Woman Rebels (1936)
Another film starring Katharine Hepburn, who was a big fan of Plunkett’s. Hepburn plays a scandalous woman in Victorian England.
Mary of Scotland (1936)
Plunkett had taken a break from the movie industry, when Hepburn requested him for this film (about the famous 16th century Scottish queen). Unfortunately the film was a flop!
Quality Street (1937)
Yet ANOTHER Katharine Hepburn vehicle, set in England in 1810.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
“During production, Plunkett had to contend with Selznick’s demands, changes in directors, and rigid Technicolor advisors. He designed over 5,000 separate items of clothing for more than 50 major characters and one hundred extras. He also managed crowd scenes to reflect the realities of war by ensuring a proper proportion of men to women and an appropriate number of women in mourning” (Producing Gone With the Wind).
Little Women (1949)
June Allyson and Elizabeth Taylor starred in yet another version of the classic book.
That Forsyte Woman (1949)
Greer Garson and Errol Flynn starred in this adaptation of The Forsyte Saga books.
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
The popular Broadway musical (first staged in 1946).
Show Boat (1951)
Another stage musical adaptation, starring Ava Gardner.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
The classic, starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. Set in 1920s Hollywood just as talking movies are being introduced, with a glorious film-within-the-film set in the 18th century (“I caaaan’t stand him”)!
Young Bess (1953)
The early life of Queen Elizabeth I, starring Jean Simmons as Elizabeth and Deborah Kerr as Catherine Parr.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Another musical, this one set in Oregon in 1950.
The Glass Slipper (1955)
A musical adaptation of Cinderella starring Leslie Caron.
A drama about the life of Diane de Poitiers (1499 – 1566), mistress of Henri II of France, starring Lana Turner.
Raintree County (1957)
Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor star in this American Civil War-era film.
What’s your favorite Walter Plunkett film, costume-wise?