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« A Brief History of the Cartoon as Toy Commercial | Main | Final Oscar Balloting + Spring Preview »
Friday
Feb142014

16 Days Til Oscar: The Costumes of Irene Sharaff

Irene SharaffIf Catherine Martin wins an Oscar this year for her work on The Great Gatsby, she will join prolific costume Designer Orry-Kelly as Australia’s most Oscared individual. If Martin wins both of her nominations? She will become the first Australian to ever win more than three statues (having already won the same two for Moulin Rouge! 12 years ago). We’re not here to talk about Martin, nor Orry-Kelly really, but that’s an interesting statistic nonetheless. One of Orry-Kelly’s wins was for An American in Paris, which he won alongside Walter Plunkett and the main subject of this entry, Irene Sharaff.

Sharaff was a 15-time Oscar nominee for her work as a costume designer and was also nominated once for art direction, which certainly places her as one of the designers' favorites. She doesn’t have the famous name of, say, Edith Head or contemporaries Sandy Powell, but with such a massive nomination haul and a subsequent five awards, she should be recognized as one of the greats. She had one helluva profile, too.

Consider what Irene Sharaff won for: the aforementioned An American in Paris, plus The King and I, West Side Story, Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Consider also the titles for which she wasn’t even nominated: Meet Me in St. Louis, The Best Years of Our Lives, Funny Girl and Mommie Dearest, which was to be her final job and was a deserving contender in spite of the film’s reputation. She designed for Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and Susan Sarandon. She's a legend.

Irene Sharaff focused almost primarily on musicals, which perhaps explains why her career declined so dramatically after 1969’s Hello, Dolly! She would receive only one last nomination, for The Other Side of Midnight in 1977 (the film's only nomination anywhere, proving her lasting legacy). Likewise, her collaborations with superstars like Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand, two actors with infrequent big screen careers, probably didn’t help either. Or perhaps she was just exhausted. She had also won a Tony Award from six nominations. Maybe she just earned herself a quiet retirement, dying in 1993 at the age of 83.

 

  • Woody Allen received his 16th nomination for writing this year. All of his writing nominations have been for original works, too. Alas, we’ve written about him enough lately, wouldn’t you agree?

 

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Reader Comments (9)

Irene Sharaff deserves a lifetime achievement award just for putting George Chakiris in those vibrant sexy purple and red (was it?) suits. I think he owes half of his own Oscar to her.

When I think of West Side Story and An American In Paris, I think of exemplary dancing in manic overwhelming colors. And that's just the way life should be, no?

February 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Great portrait! I love her work in West Side Story too. I mean, look at Rita Moreno's dress!

I'm rooting for Patricia Norris because anyone involved with Victor/Victoria deserves a statuette.

February 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Sharaff convinced Yul Brenner to shave his head and brought the Thai silks to both Broadway and the film, which in turn, made silk the number one export from Thailand.

She did a lot of Broadway and then the film including Funny Girl and was Taylor's favorite designer.

She is second only to Edith Head in number of Oscar wins for costume design, although I expect Powell to pass her and perhaps Head. Truly genius.

February 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

When Irene Sharaff, Walter Plunkett and Orry-Kelly all won an Oscar for An American In Paris, then this means that folks in Hollywood awarded three more or less openly gay people at the same time. And that they did so 62 years before Elle Page came out was a rather strong signal, don't you think?

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

PS I know you won't, but please, don't ever stop writing about Woody's movies.

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue -- i won't of course (too many classics. it's masochistic to throw them away!) but we're letting it rest a bit

February 15, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Willy, below the line people have frequently been "out" in Hollywood. Not really sure why Ellen Page, whose parents were children at the time, is being mentioned. Besides, the reason so many actors stay in the closet isn't because of what other actors will think, but because of the studio people who won't hire them because audiences won't go see their movies. Or, wouldn't.

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

And I thought I'd been obviously sarcastic. Anyway, your comment highlights the problem: people as "below the line" as costume designers are allowed to be gay in Hollywood. Heck, they're even allowed to be openly gay. But the big movie stars? Another story of course. Either way, the Academy probably would have to abandon the costume category altogether if homosexuality would be a problem within this array of filmmaking.

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

glenn -- well let's edit that to read "who won't hire them because THEY BELIEVE audiences won't go see their movies"... we've never had a test case really of an above the title star. the only example i can think of was Anne Heche coming out right before six days seven nights. the coming out didn't stick of course but it didn't stop people from seeing the movie which opened with $16 million which is hardly flopping in 1998

February 15, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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