Theodora Van Runkle - Writer

Costume Designer. Born: c. 1940. Education: Attended Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, California. Career: Commercial artist; then sketch artist on Hawaii ; 1967—first film as costume designer, Bonnie and Clyde .

Films as Costume Designer:


Hawaii (Hill) (sketch artist)


Bonnie and Clyde (Penn)


Bullitt (Yates); The Thomas Crown Affair (Jewison) (co); I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (Averback); Amanti ( A Place for Lovers ) (De Sica) (co)


The Reivers (Rydell); The Arrangement (Kazan)


Myra Breckenridge (Sarne)


Johnny Got His Gun (Trumbo)


Kid Blue (Frawley)


Mame (Saks); The Godfather, Part II (Coppola)


Heaven Can Wait (Beatty and Henry) (co); New York, New York (Scorsese)


The Jerk (C. Reiner)


S.O.B. (Edwards); Heartbeeps (Arkush) (co)


The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Higgins)


Rhinestone (Clark)


Native Son (Freedman); Peggy Sue Got Married (Coppola)


Everybody's All-American (Hackford); Wildfire (Z. King)


Troop Beverly Hills (Kanew)


Stella (Erman)


The Butcher's Wife (Hughes)


Leap of Faith (Pearce)


Kiss of Death (Schroeder); White Dwarf (Markle—for TV)


The Last Don (Clifford—mini for TV)


I'm Losing You (Wagner)


Goodbye Lover (Joffé); The Championship Season (Paul Sorvino—for TV)


By VAN RUNKLE: article—

Cinema (Beverly Hills, California), no. 35, 1976.

On VAN RUNKLE: article—

American Film , vol. 16, no. 9, September-October 1991.

* * *

In 1967 miniskirts maintained their hold on the world of women's fashions. With the release of Bonnie and Clyde , however, hemlines began to fall as fashion magazines featured the midi-look Theodora Van Runkle revived for that film. And while women were wearing midi-skirts with silk blouses, men began sporting wide lapeled, double-breasted suits.

Prior to Bonnie and Clyde , Van Runkle had worked as an ad illustrator before making her film debut as a sketch artist for Dorothy Jeakins on Hawaii . When Jeakins had to turn down Bonnie and Clyde due to a prior commitment, she recommended Van Runkle: it was a golden opportunity for the young designer with an admitted passion for 1930s clothing design. With her debut as a designer, Van Runkle was thrust into the spotlight: an Oscar nomination (she lost to John Truscott for Camelot ), a Golden Tiberius from the Italian design industry, and numerous offers for more film work.

Bonnie and Clyde catapulted not only Van Runkle to fame, but Faye Dunaway as well; over the next few years, the star used Van Runkle to design her clothes both offscreen and on, establishing her fashion image as one based on soft silks which both reveal and disguise. In discussing her approach to dressing Dunaway for The Thomas Crown Affair , Van Runkle noted her use of accessories to counterpoint the outfit: Dunaway's passion is signified by her clothing, her control by her jewelry.

While Van Runkle has done a wide variety of period pieces, from the sock-hop styles of the 1950s in Peggy Sue Got Married to the hippie atrocities of I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! , she claims her favorite period is that from the beginning of World War I to the end of World War II. With Mame Van Runkle re-created a fashion obsession with hats that prompted the Millinery Institute of America to award her their Golden Crown, while with New York, New York , she redefined Liza Minnelli's fashion image by dressing her in tailored outfits. With The Godfather, Part II Van Runkle was able to cover much of the period between the wars, outfitting the mob in an exquisite array of tailored suits.

That tailored look remains one of her two favorites, the other being what she calls her "romantic" style: sensual satins, furs, lace, and velvet. With The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas , she was allowed to indulge that latter penchant to great effect, director Colin Higgins agreeing with her that costumes are an effective shorthand to character. In that film Dolly Parton was never more appropriately, nor more lavishly attired: one costume, dubbed "Miss Mona Aflame with Passion," cost $7,000.

—Doug Tomlinson

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