When you flip on CBS Sunday Morning, you’ll see someone who might be familiar to you if you know anything about the costuming world. Ann Roth will be featured on November 16th at 9 a..m, discussing her career and her own surprise at her fame, despite an entire career behind the scenes.
Although I have never worked for Ann Roth, I have worked with several of her protégés who have gone on to become designers. While working at her studio, The Costume Depot, I have been fortunate to see her in fittings creating a bond with an actor and exploring the character they will be playing.
It is almost unheard of for someone from the “technical” side of the business to be noticed by network television, but Ms. Roth is a deserving exception. She has received about every accolade the entertainment community can bestow – the Oscar, Tony, BAFTA and multiple nominations for each. She has even been recognized by the Academy for her Lifetime Achievement at the 2012 Hamptons Film Festival. She will tell you that she was perplexed by the Lifetime Achievement Award, saying it made her sound old and she doesn’t feel it. She quickly reminded everyone that she is, after all, still working.
This much-celebrated legend has created a character’s persona with the cut of a simple pair of jeans or a cowboy hat. These perfect brushstrokes are created in close collaboration with the actor and they have a transformative effect that creates the character. “When in the fitting room, you’re with an actor with a distinct personality” Ms. Roth said, “[then] you look at them coming toward you and there is a character there. It is…remarkable!” After all these years her voice is still filled with enthusiasm.
Mike Nichols, with whom she has worked for nearly 50 years, tells of his reaction when he first saw the look Ms. Roth had created for Meryl Streep in Silkwood. He describes the choices and his reaction as he relates in his Forward to the book Ann Roth* “Out came Meryl, smoking, in a very short denim skirt that barely reached the top of her thighs, a very tight T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled into one of the short sleeves, no stockings or socks, her bare legs stuck into cowboy boots. I had to sit down, I got so dizzy. Here was Karen, very real.”
Nathan Lane describes her as being “like a great actor, there is great attention to detail, character and authenticity.” It is this focus on collaboration that has made her who she is. In Mr. Lane’s understated words, “sort of a legend.”
I am looking forward to watching her interview. We will see her home in the bucolic hills of Pennsylvania. The Costume Depot where I, along with just about every other wardrobe person in New York, has worked will be featured as well.
Ann Roth by Holly Poe Durbin & Bonnie Kruger (published USITT in conjunction with Broadway Press)