Back in the days when I ran a touring theater company, one of my closest friends was my costume designer, Richard Arlen Crane. Dick and I had met in the early 70's when we were cast in a musical production called Young Abe Lincoln. "If you ever start your own troupe," he told me, "I'll make all the costumes for you for free." His only proviso was that I write fun roles for him and that none would ever require him to reprise the part for which he was physically the best suited: the 16th President. (Not only did I honor this promise but in Exit Grand Balcony, I let him play John Wilkes Booth.)
Dick was obsessive about historic accuracy in his costume designs, though some of his modern improvisations to create a particular effect were often enough to raise eyebrows. "You might want to be careful bending at the waist," he once warned about a breathtaking Louis XIV gown he'd made for me. "I used hacksaw blades in the bodice..." Whether or not this was true, I was smart enough not to ask. Costume designers - like piano players - are the people you least want to offend in live theater because of the subtle tricks they can play on you like leaving straight pins in awkward places or transposing all your songs to a different key.
It was also assumed that I wrote the plays and then gave Dick instructions on how to dress the cast. Quite often, however, Dick would call to tell me he had just purchased several bolts of brocade, satin and chiffon. "You should write the next play about a sultan and his harem," he'd tell me. And so I did.
I share all of this in preface to my glowing 5-star review of Hollywood designer Richard La Motte's entertaining and insightful collection of "been there/done that" stories for his book, "Costume Design 101." As I immersed myself in La Motte's conversational remembrances of iconic stars, popular movies and budget challenges, there was a common thread that made me smile and think, "Dick would really have loved this book." Even after a first read-through, this text would likely have a plethora of yellow highlights, dog-eared pages and copious margin notes.
And that, truly, is quite possibly the highest praise I can give a behind-the-scenes book about what it really takes to "dress the part." Whether you're seeking a career in the wardrobe department of a Hollywood studio or just want to have a deeper appreciation of all of the decisions that go into planning colors, styles and fabrics, this is a must-have resource for your shelf.