Donfeld, 72; Oscar-nominated Hollywood costume designer

Times Staff Writer

Donfeld, the Hollywood costume designer who was nominated for four Academy Awards and created wardrobes for films including “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and “Prizzi’s Honor,” has died. He was 72.

He died Saturday at the home of his brother, Richard Feld, in Temple City, after a brief illness. The exact cause of his death was not known, his brother said.

In recent years Donfeld, who was born Donald Lee Feld, had shared a home with his brother.

“Costume designers are supposed to disappear behind the costumes, and Donfeld did that,” said Deborah Nadoolman Landis, president of the Costume Designers Guild, Local 892.


“He had more to offer than his costume designs,” she said. “He was able to talk about the art of costume design in a way that educated the industry and the public.”

Throughout his career, Donfeld worked with the biggest names in the business, including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. in “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” (1964), Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis in “The Great Race” (1965), and Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson in “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985). He worked on more than 30 movies.

He also designed costumes for television, including episodes of “Wonder Woman,” a 1970s series starring Lynda Carter, that brought him an Emmy nomination in 1978.

“I always admired Donfeld’s work on “Wonder Woman,” Sharen Davis, costume designer for “Dreamgirls,” said this week. She met Donfeld at a designers guild meeting several years ago. From then on, she said, “after every film I did he wrote me a note, encouraging me.”


His first Academy Award nomination came early in his career for “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962), a bleak romance about an alcoholic couple, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.

Good costume design “captures the mood and attitude of the players, their society, their environment,” Donfeld said in a 1969 interview with The Times.

“Designing for the screen is an entirely different matter than designing fashion for the public,” he said, adding that movie costumes should be created for the character and be historically correct.

In interviews, Donfeld referred to “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” from 1969 to illustrate how he worked. The movie is set in the era of marathon dances during the Depression. It stars Jane Fonda as Gloria.


To prepare for it, Donfeld said in a 1970 interview with The Times, he researched the dress styles of the late ‘20s, assuming that the characters didn’t have the money to wear new clothes.

During fittings with Fonda he played recordings of ‘20s music and kept the attention on the character of Gloria by asking questions about her, such as who was her favorite singer and what sorts of jobs would she do.

The movie brought Donfeld his second Oscar nomination. He was also nominated for “Tom Sawyer” (1973), which featured Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher, and “Prizzi’s Honor.”

Born in Los Angeles on July 3, 1934, Donfeld attended Chouinard Art Institute before he went to work for Capitol Records at age 19, designing album cover art.


He changed his name early in his career, because his last name was often misspelled in print, he said.

One of his first Hollywood assignments, in the late 1950s, was to create costumes for Academy Award show production numbers.

Along with his costume work, he was known for his draftsman’s skills. “His costume sketches are works of art,” said Landis.

In addition to his brother, Donfeld’s survivors include an aunt and several cousins, actor Jon Lindstrom among them.


A viewing is planned for 6 p.m. Sunday and a funeral is planned for 3 p.m. Monday, both at Rose Hills Cemetery, 3888 Workman Mill Road, Whittier.