Costume Designer Helen Rose Dies : Film Fashions Won Her 2 Oscars, Many Famous Friends

Times Staff Writer

Helen Rose, who clothed some of Hollywood's most beautiful women and in the process became their friend and confidant, has died in her Palm Springs home, it was reported Monday.

She was 81 and died Saturday after what was described as a long illness.

The Academy Award-winning costume designer won Oscars for "The Bad and the Beautiful" in 1952 and "I'll Cry Tomorrow" in 1955 and was nominated an additional eight times. Her Oscars were considered particularly significant, coming for restrained creations in two black-and-white dramas at a time when color spectaculars were in vogue.

After her retirement from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the mid-1960s, she created a line of elegant dresses that were sold in retail outlets throughout the country.

Among the designs that endeared her to film fans was the V-neck cocktail gown Elizabeth Taylor wore in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and a wedding dress designed originally for Judy Garland in "Royal Wedding" but worn in the film by Jane Powell who took Miss Garland's place after the former child star suffered a nervous breakdown.

But her most famous gown rests not in a dank MGM warehouse but in a Philadelphia museum, one of two wedding creations she designed for Grace Kelly when the film actress became the princess of Monaco in 1956. Miss Kelly, who needed separate gowns for civil and religious wedding ceremonies, later donated the rose-point lace dress she wore in the cathedral in Monaco to the city of her birth.

Known particularly for her work with chiffon gowns featuring beaded bodices, Mrs. Rose said in a 1981 interview with The Times that she favored that material because of the way it moved and picked up light.

It was a material she had become attracted to when she first broke into costuming--initially with vaudeville in the 1920s and then in 1941 with the Ice Follies. She went to MGM in 1943 and stayed until 1966, an era that featured what she called "the greatest stars in the world, wonderful producers and directors and unlimited budgets. . . ."

It also was a golden era of costume design that had begun with Adrian in the late 1920s and ended with the decline of the spectacular musicals that featured many of Mrs. Rose's creations.

She wrote two autobiographies--"Just Make Them Beautiful" and "The Glamorous World of Helen Rose."

Several years ago Mrs. Rose, who had lived in Palm Springs for many years, launched the "Helen Rose Show," a fashion production with profits to charity that featured many of the costumes she had designed for MGM.

Marilyn Visel, a longtime friend, said the costumes had been willed to her and that she would carry on with the show.

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