The Archive is sad to report the death of costume designer Nolan Miller, who passed away on June 6th, 2012 from lung cancer at the age of 79. Miller designed the costumes for many Aaron Spelling/Douglas Cramer shows, including Dynasty, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Vega$.
Below are some selections from Miller’s 2003 Archive interview:
On how he became interested in fashion:
What turned me on to fashion? Movies. I loved movies. I lived from Saturday to Saturday, and of course I particularly like Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Grable … I knew when I watched Betty Grable movies that that was what I wanted to do. All those costumes … it’s so strange that in movies there was always a fashion show or something or a girl was picked up by some guy who told her she needed clothes to be presentable and would take her to the store. Of course there was always a designer in a dark suit – note dark suit – and there was usually a staircase that the models came down. I just thought, “this is what I want.” I didn’t realize, though, the 18-hour-day of hard work sometimes. But it sounded glamorous and I loved the whole thing of movies. Anything to do with the movies. I just wanted to work at the studio.
On his start in costuming, on Matinee Theater:
It was an hour show, every day at noon, and it was live. There were usually three groups of people in the wardrobe department preparing shows, because one day it would be a modern show, one day it would be a biblical thing, another day might be a comedy. I think that there were probably 3 or 4 people in my group, and I think we did two shows a week, one if we were on a show that aired on Monday, and we would prep the rest of the week. Maybe we’d have a show for Thursday or something that week. We were always prepping the next show. It was quite an amazing show, particularly in that it was live every day.
On working in a flower shop and meeting Aaron Spelling:
He and his then wife Carolyn Jones were shopping in Beverly Hills and they stopped in the flower shop to say hello. At that point Aaron Spelling wasn’t anyone, you know. He was married to Carolyn Jones, who I was thrilled to meet. We decided to go and have a drink; it was late in the afternoon. So we went and had a drink and Carolyn was under contract to Hal Wallis at Paramount. She had just finished a film and she said the studio was sending her on a PR junket. She said the studio told her to get some clothes for personal appearances. She said, “do you want to design them?” I said, “of course.” She said, “okay, well, why don’t you bring me some sketches.” She told me what she needed and so I did sketches for her. And that was the beginning, because I did those clothes for her. I found a dressmaker who was highly recommended who had quite a good star clientele, so I knew that she was capable, and I made the clothes for Carolyn.
On Aaron Spelling:
First of all, he’s very unassuming. He’s always been very, very thin, looks like he’s undernourished. He’s very warm, very friendly; he immediately puts everyone at ease that’s around him. After all of these years he still hasn’t run out of ideas and instantly knows what to do. He has a sixth sense about what’s wrong with the show or what he should do or something. He’s great to work with because he sees what the show is going to look like. When he says, “she’s running down the road; she should be in a white sweater,” he has a reason why she should be in a white sweater. Over the years I would argue with him over certain things, but he usually proved himself right.
On working on Gilligan’s Island:
I was starting to be sort of known for glamour clothes and beaded gowns and that kind of thing. I had my shop at that time. I had a call from the producer, saying they were doing the show and they had a girl who was like a showgirl and they were all stranded. She must have had a very large trunk with her that day that they went for a cruise, because every season we’d do a couple of new gowns. They’d call me, “we need a couple more gowns,” so I did Tina’s clothes. I didn’t do the rest of the show. I just did Tina Louise’s gowns.
On the bra-lessness on Charlie’s Angels:
All of the Paris collections and everything were showing chiffon blouses with nothing under it. Everyone was just aghast. Everyone was so shocked, but they were showing the same blouses on Rodeo Drive. They weren’t so see-through, but you could tell there was no bra on. Before that we couldn’t even show the imprint of a nipple. I had to put a band-aid over the nipple or something. All of the sudden Farrah was in a crepe de chine blouse or a double white chiffon blouse with no bra under it. Everyone said, “ah, this is going to be shocking. They won’t allow this. You won’t get by with this.” But we did.
On Dynasty, TV fashion, and Joan Collins:
Read Nolan Miller’s New York Times obituary.
Watch his full Archive interview.