“Glamour and Mischief!: Hollywood’s ‘Undercover Costume Designer’” by David V. Jervis and Michael Woulfe— Dressing the Stars

Jervis, David V. and Michael Woulfe. “Glamour and Mischief!: Hollywood’s ‘Undercover Costume Designer’”, edited by Eve Allsbrook. David V. Jervis, 2016.

Dressing the Stars

Amos Lassen

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, Michael Woulfe was a lesser-known costume designer. Born in Brooklyn, he was star-struck early on but his big break came when Judy Garland personally requested him to design her gowns for the gala film premiere of “A Star Is Born”. Before that, however, Woulfe has been on an arduous journey. His first designing job for the movies was to dress Sylvia Sidney in “Blood on the Sun”. Early on he discovered the nasty attitude that lay under the bright lights of Hollywood as well as the difficulty of working under the personal direction of Howard Hughes at RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.

Woulfe was one of the youngest costume designers in history to receive screen credit as Gown Designer. He was lead designer on more than sixty films and created glamorous wardrobes and gowns for Hollywood stars Claudette Colbert, Larraine Day, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Susan Hayward, Janet Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Terry Moore, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Russell, Jean Simmons, Barbara Stanwyck, Sylvia Sydney, Claire Trevor, and Loretta Young.

Woulfe and Hughes worked together for more than 25 years beginning at RKO Radio Pictures and ending at Hughes Productions. Hughes’s meddled a great deal and he stifled creativity in costumes with his demands for plunging necklines which caused censorship in several films. We go from RKO’s wardrobe room to the executive suites and get quite a look at how Hollywood worked. The book includes over 200 images, including color sketches, photographs, newspaper clippings, and personal letters giving us a humorous and insightful look at Hollywood.

We get some great stories about behind the scenes of a great studio but I would be remiss if I did not mention the many pages of gown design from Woulfe’s original sketches. In many cases we see the original sketches with studio still photos of the stars wearing the finished creations.

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