David Bruce: Costumes Anecdotes



Canadian figure skater Toller Cranston once lived in a house located in a very bad part of Toronto. On the street outside his house could be seen pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, and hustlers. Once, Mr. Cranston had made the mistake of hiring someone to clean out his basement for him. Unfortunately, the cleaner did not know what was valuable and what was not valuable, so he had thrown out boxes of very expensive skating costumes onto the sidewalk outside Mr. Cranston’s house. When Mr. Cranston came home, he saw a riot of activity on the street. The street people had discovered the glittery, jewel-studded costumes, and they were having a grand time putting them on and parading around. For months afterward, Mr. Cranston saw bits and pieces of his costumes being worn by prostitutes getting into customers’ cars.

While dancing at the New York State Theatre, Patricia McBride and Anthony Blum made their way off stage into a dark wing. Unable to see where he was walking, Mr. Blum slipped and a tearing noise filled the air — the back of Ms. McBride’s costume had been torn. To get her costume ready for Ms. McBride’s next entrance — which was coming up quickly, on the other side of the stage — the wardrobe mistresses followed behind Ms. McBride, making whatever repairs they could in the few seconds they had available. When Ms. McBride appeared on stage again, her costume was held in place by pins.

Things sometimes get hectic when a dance troupe travels constantly and performs at many different theaters, some of which have the dressing rooms a couple of stories above the stage, making quick changes difficult. While Anna Pavlova’s dance troupe was performing at one theater, a dance ended and another dancer named Jean took her place behind the curtain. Suddenly, someone yelled, “Quick! Jean’s forgot her pants for Greek!” The pants were thrown down from upstairs, and Jean caught them just as the curtain began to rise.

In 1982, Sinead Cusack appeared as Katherine in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. For her costume, an exquisite pink silk dress had been designed; however, she felt that the character would not wear anything exquisite. Therefore, she wore boots with the dress, and she suggested to the designer, Bob Crowley, “Let’s desecrate it.” He agreed, and he said, “Shall I make the first cut?” With a pair of scissors, he cut a slash in the skirt, then she did the same thing. After the desecration, the dress suited the character.

Fred Allen, a funny man, played straight man early in his career. Once, he got off a funny ad-lib which the audience enjoyed very much, but which the comedian he worked with did not. The comedian was furious, and he talked to Mr. Allen in the dressing room after the show. While still wearing a light bulb for a nose, a toilet plunger for a cane, slap shoes on his feet, and a mangy fur coat with big patches on it around his shoulders, the comedian told Mr. Allen, “I’ll be goddamned if I play straight for anybody.”

Some actresses absolutely refuse to wear certain items of clothing, no matter how much their directors want accuracy in costuming. For example, Yvonne Arnaud absolutely refused to wear a corset in Love for Love. Sometimes the refusal has to do with modern styles and fashions. John Gielgud remembers how indignant Cecil Beaton became when he could not persuade the actresses in Lady Windermere’s Fan to thicken their eyebrows as was popular at the time of the setting of the play.

Dame Marie Tempest wore clothes well, and she always looked good on stage. When she was dressed for a role, she always stood and never sat in her dressing room so that the costume stayed fresh. Once, an actress who was often late for work flung herself down before Dame Marie to ask for forgiveness, but Dame Marie ordered her, “Get up! Get up! Have you no respect for your management’s clothes?”

Costumes need not be expensive. Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis once went into a Woolworth’s, where they shocked the clerks by putting colanders on their heads and saying things such as, “Look, dear, this strainer fits perfectly.” After they had purchased a colander, they painted it gold and silver, added fake jewels and other gewgaws, and suddenly the colander had turned into an exotic Oriental headdress.

Figure skater Christopher Bowman once performed in a costume consisting of a black velvet suit whose major features consisted of a white collar and plunging neckline. Reporters tried to find words sufficient to describe the features of the outfit, and National reporter Julie Vader said, “It’s a shawl collar.” When someone asked how she knew that, she explained, “I have a dress exactly like it.”

Actress Judi Dench frequently plays practical jokes on stage. In A Little Night Music, each night she wrote a new message on her corset where her fellow actors could see it but the audience could not. Once, her corset was decorated with the message “Happy New Year.” On the last night of the play, the message was a joke directed to her American co-star, Laurence Guittard: “Go home, Yank.”

Usually, the “diamonds” seen on stage costumes are rhinestones. However, Margot Fonteyn once worn a borrowed headdress made with real diamonds in a dance, during which a couple of diamonds became loose and fell on the floor. Once the dance was over and the curtain fell, she frantically got on her knees and started looking for the diamonds. (Yes, she found them.)

An automobile accident once left Ted Shawn and his dancers without costumes at show time. They went into a store in a small town and purchased the only thing that looked like a suitable replacement — gray jersey basketball trunks. Unfortunately, at the performance that night all of the dancers jumped into the air — and their trunks split open at the crotch.

Even in the world of ballet, jealousy exists. While dancing the title role in Giselle, Alicia Markova felt a stabbing pain. Examining her costume later, she discovered that it had been sabotaged — someone had stuck a large pack-needle in the underskirt. A little earlier, someone had hacked out the whole of the inside skirt of her second act costume.

Good things cost money. Robert Rauschenberg wanted exquisite lace for a costume he had designed for a Merce Cunningham dancer, but the budget didn’t permit its purchase. Mr. Rauschenberg went to a fabric store, looked at ordinary lace, then bought exquisite lace, paying the difference in price out of his own pocket.

Early in Rudolf Nureyev’s career, before he had been accepted into the Leningrad Ballet School, he danced in a sailor’s costume in his folk-dance troupe. Because the trousers of his costume weren’t ready, he borrowed trousers from another member of the troupe, and as he was dancing, the trousers fell down.

Sir Ralph Richardson paid attention to details. While Sir Ralph was starring in Home at Seven, Max Reinhardt told him that his character was dressed much too well to be the bank clerk he was supposed to be. Therefore, Sir Ralph asked Wardrobe to find him a suit that fit badly.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

This entry was posted in Funny, Poetry and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s