Dorothy Jeakins; First Oscar Winner for Costume Design


Dorothy Jeakins, Academy Award-winning costume designer for such films as “Joan of Arc” and “Night of the Iguana,” has died. She was 81.

Ms. Jeakins died Nov. 21 at a residential care home in Santa Barbara.

An artist who was trained at Otis Art Institute and who first specialized in line drawings, Ms. Jeakins began her Hollywood career humbly--painting cels for animated shorts at the Walt Disney Studio.

She worked her way up to designing costumes for Broadway and Hollywood, earning the Academy’s first Oscar awarded in costume design for outfitting Ingrid Bergman as the French woman warrior Joan of Arc in 1948.


Ms. Jeakins shared a second Oscar with the fabled Edith Head for the costumes for Victor Mature, Hedy Lamarr and other cast members in the 1949 biblical film “Samson and Delilah.”

The popular designer earned her third Oscar for costuming Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner in the steamy film version of Tennessee Williams’ “Night of the Iguana” in 1964.

Ms. Jeakins’ costumes were also seen in such films as “The Sound of Music,” “Little Big Man” and “Friendly Persuasion.”

At the height of her designing career, she won a Guggenheim Fellowship to spend a year in Japan studying costumes of the Japanese theater.

From 1953 to 1963, Ms. Jeakins designed for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company. She later served as curator of the Textile and Costume Department of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“Fashion is a major document of social history,” she told The Times after assuming the museum job in 1967, when miniskirts were sweeping the world. “Therefore mod clothes, miniskirts and gauche use of color simply must be read as a social document. Clothes always mirror the times. Dress and costume are a superb minor art and a research document of social history.”

Ms. Jeakins, who won the Women in Film Crystal Award in 1987 for her professional achievements, moved easily from one phase to another during her varied art career.

“I think the constant freshness of our minds is possible,” she once said, “only when we move through life with willingness to learn and a student’s attitude toward the lessons of the past and the changes in the present.”

When not working, she designed her own clothes and enjoyed calligraphy, photography, gardening, cooking and bringing up her two sons, Stephen and Peter.