I'm very blue, to bid adieu, to my friend, the revolutionary costume designer, Theadora Van Runkle. She has been an inspiring force to lovers of vintage design for decades, whether they know it or not. With her film debut, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), she single-handedly brought a level of cool to films that hadn't been seen before, and lived her life with a glittering élan.
Theadora started her career as a young advertising illustrator for May Co., and went on to become one of Hollywood's most talented costumers, garnering three Oscar noms (Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather Part II, Peggy Sue Got Married), as well as being awarded with an Emmy, and a Costume Designers Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.
I first met Theadora in 2003, at a screening of I Love you Alice B. Toklas (a film she lovingly costumed) at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood, and after much gushing about Leigh Taylor-Young’s lace mini-dresses in the film, we bonded over a mutual adoration for embroidered piano shawls, and my deep love for her was born. Five years later, I spent the day sipping tea in her dreamy, ivy-covered Laurel Canyon cottage, as I interviewed her for my book Vintage LA (HarperCollins). After our chat-sesh, we had several long talks, where she told me delicious stories about Hollywood’s golden era . . . about her regular Friday night movie parties with Edith Head in the ‘60s, Cary Grant’s secret love affairs (I’m sworn to secrecy), and tips on how to be irresistible to men (most of which are too risque to publish!).
She was magical, talented, ever-inspired, and positively glowing from within. With her platinum bob, smiling red lips, and dramatic flirtatiousness, she still attracted sexy young suitors. One beau of which (a producer in his 20s) was so obsessed after cocktails with Thea, he sent her a strand of pearls.
Observing Theadora’s beautiful daily routine: watching the way she adjusted the antique textiles strewn about her boudoir, obsessing over finding the perfect vintage brooch to wear on her velvet kimono, and delicately painting portraits of her beloved cat, Hazel, showed me that you can live a creatively free and decadently bohemian life, even in your eighth decade. I'd been telling my husband about her for years, and dreamt of having them meet next time we were in L.A., so he could experience her illuminating energy. I'm incredibly sad that I'll never get the chance to visit with her one last time.
You can read all about her amazing career here, but you can also read the interview I did with her for Vintage LA below. There were so many hours of wonderful material, it should have been a book in itself . . .
Above: My photo of lovely Theadora in her vintage finery, taken the night we met in 2003 at the American Cinematheque (L.A.), for a screening of I Love you, Alice B. Toklas (1968).