THE BIZ : And in a Real Supporting Role . . .

Joe Venturini is an artist whose work is seldom seen. It's not obscure, just obscured--by fabric or feathers, even balloons.

Venturini is a Los Angeles sculptor who works with Las Vegas and Hollywood costume designers, welding wire frames that support gravity-defying designs.

He made headdresses for dozens of dancing sea creatures for the Riviera hotel's "Splash" extravaganza. He made sure that Geena Davis' breasts stayed in place during the Oscar ceremonies. He shaped a Chrysler Building hat for Loni Anderson. For the masquerade party sequence in "Batman Returns," he made hats that looked like Big Ben, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the sinking Titanic.

"In the 1970s, I was making metal sculptures of flowers, sailboats and the like and selling them in various Melrose-type boutiques," says Venturini. "But when Bob Mackie approached me to make costume frames for a Lynda Carter TV special, my career took a new direction."

Venturini is rarely present at the fittings, so he has met few of his famous clients. But this bothers him not at all; the 39-year-old Venturini claims little interest in current show biz figures. His taste in Hollywood glitz runs to an earlier era, when films featured stars like Sandra Dee and Pamela Tiffin, tooling about in enormous convertibles. His car has a license plate that spells out "CAPRICE," after a Doris Day movie that few others find memorable. "Ah, the '60s," says Venturini wistfully. "Now, that was glamour!"

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