Oakland, California, 5 June 1902.
Attended the University of California, Berkeley.
Vaudeville and stock actor; designed costumes for touring vaudeville
chorus; 1926–40—designer for FBO (later RKO);
1940–47—freelance designer; 1947–66—designer
for MGM; also designer for Broadway shows and Metropolitan Opera
Academy Award for
An American in Paris
8 March 1982.
Ain't Love Funny? (Andrews); One Minute to Play (Wood); Red Hot Hoofs (Delacy); A Regular Scout (Kirkland)
Boy Rider (L. King); Clancy's Kosher Wedding (Gillstrom); The Gingham Girl (Kirkland); Her Summer Hero (Dugan); Legionnaires in Paris (Gillstrom); Lightning Lariat (DeLacy); The Magic Garden (Meehan); Shanghaied (R. Ince); Hard-Boiled Haggerty (Brabin); The Bandit's Son (Fox)
Sinners in Love (Melford); Bantam Cowboy (L. King); Captain Careless (Storm); Chicago after Midnight (R. Ince); Circus Kid (Seitz); Headin' for Danger (Bradbury); Hey Rube! (Seitz); Hit of the Show (R. Ince); Phantom of the Range (Dugan); Sally of the Scandals (Shores); Son of the Golden West (Forde); Tropic Madness (Vignola); Wallflowers (Meehan); When the Law Rides (DeLacy); Wizard of the Saddle (Clark); Stolen Love (Shores); Stocks and Blondes (Murphy)
The Red Sword (Vignola); Love in the Desert (Melford); Air Legion (Glennon); Amazing Vagabond (Fox); The Big Diamond Robbery (Forde); Come and Get It (Fox); Dance Hall (M. Brown); Delightful Rogue (Shores); Freckled Rascal (L. King); Gun Law (DeLacy or Burch); Half Marriage (Cowen); Hardboiled (R. Ince); The Jazz Age (Shores); Laughing at Death (Fox); The Little Savage (L. King); Night Parade (St. Clair); Outlawed (Fogwell); The Pride of Pawnee (DeLacy); Seven Keys to Baldpate (Barker); Street Girl (Ruggles); Syncopation (Glennon); Tanned Legs (Neilan); Vagabond Lover (Neilan); The Very Idea (Rosson); Voice of the Storm (Shores); Queen Kelly (Von Stroheim); The Woman I Love (Melford)
The Case of Sergeant Grischa (Brenon); The Cuckoos (Sloane); Dixiana (Reed); The Fall Guy (Pearce); Half Shot at Sunrise (Sloane); Lawful Larceny (Sherman); Leathernecking (Cline); Love Comes Along (Julian); Midnight Mystery (Seitz); Second Wife (Mack)
Night after Night (Mayo); The Conquerors (Wellman); The Phantom of Crestwood (Ruben); Secrets of the French Police (Sutherland)
The Past of Mary Holmes (Thompson); Double Harness (Cromwell); Morning Glory (Sherman); The Right to Romance (Santell); Ace of Aces (Ruben); Aggie Appleby , Maker of Men (Sandrich); Ann Vickers (Cromwell) (co); Blind Adventure (Schoedsack); Chance at Heaven (Seiter); Christopher Strong (Arzner) (co); Cross Fire (Brower); Emergency Call (Cahn); The Great Jasper (Ruben); Lucky Devils (R. Ince); Melody Cruise (Sandrich); Midshipman Jack (Cabanne); No Marriage Ties (Ruben); No Other Woman (Ruben); One Man's Journey (Robertson); Professional Sweetheart (Seiter); Rafter Romance (Seiter); Scarlet River (Brower); The Silver Cord (Cromwell); Sweepings (Cromwell); Tomorrow at Eight (Enright); Little Women (Cukor); Flying Down to Rio (Freeland) (co); King Kong (Cooper and Schoedsack)
The Little Minister (Wallace); Spitfire (Cromwell); Finishing School (Tuchock and Nicholls); Sing and Like It (Seiter); Where Sinners Meet (Ruben); Stingaree (Wellman); The Life of Vergie Winters (Santell); Bachelor Bait (Stevens); Cockeyed Cavaliers (Sandrich); Strictly Dynamite (Nugent); The Age of Innocence (Moeller); The Fountain (Cromwell); His Greatest Gamble (Robertson); We're Rich Again (Seiter); Down to Their Last Yacht ( Hawaiian Nights ) (Sloane); The Gay Divorcee ( The Gay Divorce ) (Sandrich); Anne of Green Gables (Nicholls); Kentucky Kernels (Stevens); The Silver Streak (Atkins); Wednesday's Child (Robertson); By Your Leave (Corrigan); Dangerous Corner (Rosen); Lightning Strikes Twice (Holmes); The Crime Doctor (Robertson); Gridiron Flash (Tyron); A Hat, a Coat, and a Glove (Miner); Keep 'em Rolling (Archainbaud); Long Lost Father (Schoedsack); Man of Two Worlds (Ruben); Meanest Gal in Town (Mack); Of Human Bondage (Cromwell); Romance in Manhattan (Roberts); Success at Any Price (Ruben); Their Big Moment (Cruze); This Man Is Mine (Cromwell); Woman in the Dark (Rosen)
Mary of Scotland (Ford); Hooray for Love (W. Lang); The Informer (Ford); The Arizonian (C. Vidor); Jalna (Cromwell); Alice Adams (Stevens); Hot Tip (McCarey and Gleason); Freckles (Killy and Hamilton); His Family Tree (C. Vidor); The Three Musketeers (Lee); The Rainmakers (Guiol); To Beat the Band (Stoloff); Hi, Gaucho! (Atkins); The Return of Peter Grimm (Nicholls); Annie Oakley (Stevens); Another Face (Cabanne); Captain Hurricane (Robertson); Chasing Yesterday (Nicholls); A Dog of Flanders (Sloman); Enchanted April (Beaumont); Grand Old Girl (Robertson); Murder on a Honeymoon (Corrigan); Seven Keys to Baldpate (Hamilton and Killy); Strangers All (C. Vidor); Sylvia Scarlett (Cukor) (co); Village Tale (Cromwell)
The Plough and the Stars (Ford); The Soldier and the Lady ( Michael Strogoff ) (Nicholls); Chatterbox (Nicholls)
Quality Street (Stevens); The Woman I Love ( The Woman Between ) (Litvak); Nothing Sacred (Wellman) (co); The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Taurog)
Allegheny Uprising ( The First Rebel ) (Seiter); Stagecoach (Ford); The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (Potter); Gone with the Wind (Fleming); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Dieterle); Abe Lincoln in Illinois (Cromwell); Vigil in the Night (Stevens)
Captain Caution (Wallace)
The Corsican Brothers (Ratoff); Lydia (Duvivier) (co); Ladies in Retirement (C. Vidor); Sundown (Hathaway); Go West, Young Lady (Strayer); Lady for a Night (Jason)
To Be or Not to Be (Lubitsch)
Commandoes Strike at Dawn (Farrow); In Old Oklahoma ( The War of the Wildcats ) (Rogell); The Heat's On ( Tropicana ) (Ratoff); Knickerbocker Holiday (H. Brown)
Can't Help Singing (Ryan); A Song to Remember (C. Vidor) (co)
Along Came Jones (Heisler)
Song of Love (C. Brown) (co); Because of Him (Wallace) (co)
My Brother Talks to Horses (Zinnemann); Duel in the Sun (K. Vidor); Sea of Grass (Kazan); Summer Holiday (Mamoulian) (co); Green Dolphin Street (Saville) (co); Fiesta (Thorpe) (co)
The Three Musketeers (Sidney); The Kissing Bandit (Benedek); Little Women (LeRoy)
The Secret Garden (Wilcox); Madame Bovary (LeRoy) (co); That Forsyte Woman ( The Forsyte Sage ) (Bennett) (co); Adam's Rib (Cukor); Ambush (Wood); Black Hand (Thorpe); The Outriders (Rowland)
Stars in My Crown (Tourneur); Annie Get Your Gun (Sidney) (co); Devil's Doorway (A. Mann); Father of the Bride (Minnelli) (co); The Happy Years (Wellman); Summer Stock (Walters) (co); Toast of New Orleans (Taurog) (co); King Solomon's Mines (Bennett and Marton); The Miniver Story (Potter) (co); Two Weeks with Love (Rowland) (co); The Magnificent Yankee ( The Man with Thirty Sons ) (J. Sturges); Payment on Demand (Bernhardt) (co); Vengeance Valley (Thorpe); Soldiers Three (Garnett); Mr. Imperium ( You Belong to My Heart ) (Hartman)
Kind Lady (J. Sturges) (co); Man with a Cloak (Markle) (co); Show Boat (Sidney); The Law and the Lady (Knopf) (co); An American in Paris (Minnelli) (co); Across the Wide Missouri (Wellman); Westward the Women (Wellman); Singin' in the Rain (Kelly and Donen)
Carbine Williams (Thorpe); Plymouth Adventure (C. Brown); The Prisoner of Zenda (Thorpe); Million Dollar Mermaid ( One Piece Bathing Suit ) (LeRoy) (co)
Young Bess (Sidney); Scandal at Scourie (Negulesco); Ride, Vaquero! (Farrow); The Actress (Cukor); All the Brothers Were Valiant (Thorpe); Kiss Me Kate (Sidney)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Donen); The Student Prince (Thorpe); Valley of the Kings (Pirosh); Athena (Thorpe) (co); Deep in My Heart (Donen) (co); Jupiter's Darling (Sidney) (co); The Glass Slipper (Walters) (co); Many Rivers to Cross (Rowland)
Moonfleet (F. Lang); The Scarlet Coat (J. Sturges); The King's Thief (Leonard); Diane (Miller); Forbidden Planet (Wilcox) (co); Tribute to a Bad Man (Wise)
Lust for Life (Minnelli); The Wings of Eagles (Ford); The Fastest Gun Alive (Rouse)
Gun Glory (Rowland); Raintree County (Dmytryk); The Brothers Karamazov (Brooks); Merry Andrew (Kidd)
The Sheepman (Marshall); The Law and Jake Wade (J. Sturges); Some Came Running (Minnelli)
Home from the Hill (Minnelli)
Pollyanna (Swift); Bells Are Ringing (Minnelli); Cimarron (A. Mann)
Pocketful of Miracles (Capra) (co); The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Minnelli) (co)
Two Weeks in Another Town (Minnelli)
How the West Was Won (Ford, Marshall, and Hathaway)
Marriage on the Rocks (Donohue)
Seven Women (Ford)
The Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Spring 1978.
Films in Review (New York), January 1973, additions in August-September 1973 and December 1974.
Chierichetti, David, in Hollywood Costume Design , New York, 1976.
Leese, Elizabeth, in Costume Design in the Movies , New York, 1976.
LaVine, W. Robert, in In a Glamorous Fashion , New York, 1980.
American Classic Screen (Shawnee Mission, Kansas), July-August 1982.
American Classic Screen (Shawnee Mission, Kansas), September-October 1982.
* * *
Walter Plunkett lacked the knack of high couture. He could not compete in the world of super-rich chic with Paris-trained Adrian or Travis Banton. Instead, Plunkett excelled in designing glorious garments of days gone by. With the fervor of a 19th-century archeologist, Plunkett worked to make his name virtually synonymous with the "period" picture.
Originally an actor, Plunkett prepared as if trained by Stanislavsky. Endowing his costumes with presence and character, even the humblest handmade, as seen in Little Women , was seamed with integrity. Plunkett worked especially well with Katharine Hepburn at RKO because both artists aimed for veracity in character and era. Because Plunkett's dresses were assuredly accurate even in the way in which they were made, Hepburn rehearsed in costume to achieve proper movement. She insisted on learning how to maneuver hoops and how to turn her head in stiffly starched ruffs as if such movements were natural to her in order to insure that costume and characterization became one. Plunkett also was responsible for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers look. Their dance attire, integral to that "carefree" image, depended on Plunkett's elegant lines, as they inhibited or released areas of mobility. Astaire, of course, insisted on comfort and optimum freedom. Rogers preferred glamour and eye-catching gimmicks.
For David Selznick's Gone with the Wind , Plunkett chronicled the fall and rebirth of the Deep South through Scarlett O'Hara's well-researched wardrobe, which marked her passage from selfish innocence to hardened maturity. For example, the famous "dining-room curtains" dress, ornamented with jaunty tassels and a smart, one-shoulder cape, illustrated Scarlett's spunky calculation in the face of adversity. As one of the first technicolor movies, Gone with the Wind dazzled with picture-postcard color. Plunkett had already worked within the limited range of the two-color process at RKO, but now he filled the screen with sapphire, dusty rose, antique blue, claret red, and infinite shades of green. Still remembered today, the gowns of this film reflected an emerging post-Depression fashion trend. However, the Second World War aborted the cinch waist and wide, fabric-consuming skirt symbolic of prosperity and the romantic ideal of womanhood; only after the war were they resurrected in Dior's postwar "New Look."
Plunkett's later pictures echoed some interesting modern trends. His American in Paris sequence depicted the artists' ball in abstract blacks and whites, more like the flamboyant visions of Adrian than traditional Plunkett. They splashed the screen abstractly as if flung from Jackson Pollock's paint brush.
Throughout the 1950s, Plunkett continued his successful "period" creations. At the same time, he began to mimic the very popular culture that he and other designers had created. His mannerish garb for Judy Garland's Summer Stock , for example, recalls Travis Banton's collaborations with Marlene Dietrich. Plunkett's greatest homage to the silver screen however was in Singin' in the Rain . Exaggerated American motifs paid glorious tribute to those brash Hollywood musicals of his earlier days in the business.
—Edith C. Lee