A RODEO ROUNDUP OF STAR STYLE-
TRAVILLA DESIGNS DALLAS
It’s incredible how amazingly heavy an Emmy is.
That golden award is an artifact Billy Travilla was quite familiar with in the last decade of his career. As a costume designer, this gifted man began that profession with a different award distinction when, in his early twenties, Billy won his first Oscar Award for dressing Errol Flynn in the Warner Brothers hit classic, Adventures of Don Juan.
Prior to his Dallas Emmy nominations, however, Billy had already earned several others. The talented designer was acknowledged with Emmy nominations for his superior costumes when he dressed Anne Margaret, in her 1984 television movie A Streetcar Named Desire; for Richard Chamberlin and Barbara Stanwyck in their hugely successful 1983 television mini-series The Thornbirds; for Jacquelyn Smith in her role as the first lady in her 1981 television movie Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy; and Billy was also nominated for his definitive work upon a definite diva, Faye Dunaway, in her 1981 television movie Evita Peron.
For Dallas alone, Travilla won two nominations for those shiny Emmy trophies. He did so for having achieved television history. After all, Travilla’s dramatic eighties designs helped the long-running Texan TV show, to catch up with, and even out-pace, Dynasty, in ratings.
Long known for his stellar costume work for Marilyn Monroe and others, when Lorimar television executives decided they needed to pull out all the stops and glamorize their cast in dramatic looks, they hunted Billy down. After some successful beseeching, Lorimar persuaded the veteran designer to jump onto their Dallas wagon to help match the dramatic costumes of the biggest TV show at that time, Dynasty. Billy’s looks rivaled the style of Joan Collins and Linda Evans designed by Nolan Miller on the Dynasty show. Having accepted the assignment to glamorize Linda Gray, Victoria Principal, Larry Hagman, Barbara Carrerra, and even cast member Priscilla Presley; Billy Travilla was definitely the man for that job. Glamour coursed through his very veins.
Billy received his two Dallas Emmy nominations for two specifically fashionable episodes, Blast from the Past, which aired May 16, 1986 and Dallas Swan Song, which aired a year earlier, May 17, 1985. Of those two nominations he won his one Dallas Emmy for “Outstanding Costume Design for a Series.”
As a popular series, Dallas was a television phenomenon in the 1980’s. The dramatic lives of J.R. and Sue Ellen Ewing and their Texas oil clan were the talk of every town the day after airing. The show has been recently revived and Billy’s beloved friend Linda Gray has taken up her throne again as that show’s undisputed Queen, Sue Ellen Ewing.
Its fitting that Billy should have won his gold Emmy statue for Dallas. Because, like his precious designs, gold was a color and precious metal that the designer is associated with. He used it repeatedly in his designs.
When Billy needed to come up with a perfect Mrs. Ewing gown for the series’ annual Cattleman’s Ball, he did so with panache; creating for Linda Gray, a now-famous glittering gold ensemble featuring of a dramatic kimono robe. The design master created the gown underneath, and even lined the outfit, appropriately enough, in blood red … a bit of color typecasting for the ruthless Ewing clan.
I recently came across a stunning photo of Dallas actress, Priscilla Presley. In the mid-eighties photo, the former wife of Elvis is wearing Travilla’s famous gold lame sunburst pleated gown with the plunging neckline; the exact same gold gown design that was worn so memorably by Marilyn Monroe. Although he initially designed it for Ginger Rogers to wear in the 1952 film Dreamboat; Billy’s favorite blonde begged and beseeched him, in order to wear that gold gown to her own awards show. She wore it at the Beverly Hills Hotel to receive her first Photoplay Award. Marilyn also wore that gold gown in publicity photos. Although I doubt that Priscilla had to be sewn into the gold dress, like Marilyn was, the impact of that Travilla look is still enduring.
Lorimar was brilliant to do a rodeo roundup to glamorize Linda Gray and the others by roping in an industry heavyweight like Billy. In doing so, they lassoed in legendary luxury.
Travilla’s celebrated style skills did carry some serious weight; serious enough to win an Oscar and even a couple of those incredibly heavy Emmy’s.
To see the collections of KAHC and more photos of Travilla and Marilyn Monroe visit her FB Page KAHC/ Website / About.me
[This article is the seventh of a 12-part series of articles by Kimberley Ashley for 2015. Next month see her article, “Some Gentlemen Didn’t Prefer Blondes- Marilyn Monroe’s Tussle With Jane Russell.” Stay tuned for her upcoming articles on Billy Travilla and his design muse Marilyn Monroe.]
Ginger Rogers GOLD