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Jean-Pierre Dorléac's Naked Truth

Wednesday, 27 May 2015 23:00 Written by 

The Naked Truth - out nowHave you ever wondered what the role of a costume designer entails? Or indeed how it differs from other clothing-specific titles and job descriptions within the TV and movies business? Jean-Pierre Dorléac, well-known to attendees of the Cult TV Festival, tackles the demarcation at the same time as pulling back the curtain on this aspect of Hollywood, in his book “The Naked Truth”. Covering the years from 1973 to 1985, the choice of timeframe is very deliberate. This was the era when the classic glamour creators of Tinseltown were almost totally side-lined, replaced by pushy wannabes with no background or knowledge in their craft. All brought about by bean counters who put the bottom line ahead of quality.

This is the story of what Jean-Pierre needed to do to make ends meet, while establishing his name so as to be thought of when relevant projects neared production. As many a media person will tell you, networking is essential. It really is a case that what you know is not nearly as important as who you know. Connections beget contracts. So whether it was work for the theatre, television, film, couture, burlesque, ballet, or stars who wanted to make an impact when they were seen out-and-about, Jean-Pierre was civil to everyone, as he sorted the wheat from the chaff.

As noted, Jean-Pierre is well known to frequenters of the Cult TV Festival.  He joined us in Solihull, Birmingham in 2005, where our delegates voted him into the Cult TV Hall of Fame – Costumes during the Saturday night Awards ceremony.

I will never forget his uncanny ability to read between the lines of what was going on with some of our celebrities – a quiet word with me, here and there, assisted in keeping our ship on an even keel. His perceptiveness is something that is a foundation of “The Naked Truth” – the ability to say the right thing, at the right time, was his key to keeping many a Hollywood ego in check.

Overall, Jean-Pierre has reaffirmed a generality which I myself have construed from meeting various level of star: the bigger the name, the less trouble they are. Those who are likely to burn bright and then quickly fade can be one hell of a pain in the derriere; those who have to work with these sorts often mumble silently “who the hell do you think you are?” Ah yes, a handful of those to note from Cult TV Festivals gone by, but I’ll leave that to my own often-promised autobiography!

But our little old Cult TV Award was a side issue to where real recognition came from. Jean-Pierre was nominated in the 53rd Academy Awards (1981) within in the category of Best Costumes for his work on the movie “Somewhere in Time”. Now, this was a film which the studio was reluctant to support, but it had an enthusiasm and dedication from cast and crew alike. Actress Jane Seymour even persuaded composer John Barry to write the music for it, as ordinarily the budget would not have stretched to securing him. For those who haven’t seen it, the story has the charm of being a romance with a time travel conceit. It is a simple yet powerful tale from the pen of Richard Matheson, the story originally released as the novel “Bid Time Return”. In Jean-Pierre’s discussion of the project within “The Naked Truth”, he reveals a side to male star Christopher Reeve which few would have anticipated.

“Somewhere in Time” is just one cult movie which Jean-Pierre worked on. He was also in place for the Brooke Shields version of “The Blue Lagoon” in 1980.

“Somewhere in Time” did secure Jean-Pierre the Saturn Award for Best Costumes (1981). This was also a happy hunting ground for TV-based awards – the previous year he was actually nominated for Best Costumes twice – once for Battlestar Galactica, and ended up winning for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

And there were nominations for eleven Emmy Awards, too. He won twice, in the category “Outstanding Costume Design for a Series”, in 1979 for Battlestar Galactica and in 2001 for The Lot – an award shared with Gilberto Mello. Along the way he picked up nominations for the likes of The Bastard, Galactica 1980, Tales of the Gold Monkey, and Quantum Leap (FOUR times!).

All of these series are covered in this book, but also discussed for the discerning telly addict are his contributions to the likes of The Greatest American Hero, Airwolf, Automan, Knight Rider and Masquerade.

Jean-Pierre takes the chance to put right the fable of how the look of the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica came into being. Long heralded as being based on the designs of Andrew Probert, it turns out that Jean-Pierre was the mastermind, following a conversation between him, Glen A Larson and Leslie Stevens, where the producers noted they thought storyboard artist Ralph McQuarrie had failed to capture the necessary majesty and highly-polished coldness required. Together with Haleen Holt, a union assistant costume designer sketch artist, Jean-Pierre worked on over a dozen pencil versions of the Cylon before Glen and Leslie approved several, then eventually three. After various meetings with the special effects gurus, Jean-Pierre drew up a final sketch, and Haleen coloured it. Immediately after Glen saw it, the design was set.

This wasn’t the major fashion statement that was cemented by this series, though! In 1976, PR guru Ronni Cowan introduced Jean-Pierre Dorléac to Lesley Ann Warren (she of original Mission: Impossible fame). She needed nightclub costumes for Studio One’s Backlot Cabaret in West Hollywood. The solution included spandex trousers, which through Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century became “the next big thing”.

Indeed, by the time Jean-Pierre worked on the television musical special of “The Valley of the Dolls” in 1981, he was buying them off the rack in every shade of pastel and primary colours imaginable, for less than it had originally cost him to make them!

One of my favourite recollections of Jean-Pierre’s is for the Larson short-run series Sword of Justice, which starred Dack Rambo as a modern Count of Monte Cristo, Jack Martin Cole.  In the Summer of 1979 it was a jewel in the crown of BBC1’s Saturday nights, and was essential viewing for the handful of weeks that it was on the air. To see it mentioned in such esteemed televisual company raises hopes that, perhaps, one day it will get a full DVD release (a double episode, “Blackjack” made it to VHS back in 1988).

Equally, his account of the major players in another short-run Larson series, Cover Up, from 1984, gives a background to the show which is missing from all previous texts I have seen on it. It details a further back-story which adds substantially to the tragedy which unfolded. Cover Up is a series which almost deserves its own “Movie of the Week” to detail what, in essence, became a contemporary Greek tragedy, with the death of the original star, Jon-Erik Hexum.

According to IMDB.com, between scenes, while the director of photography and crew set up camera positions and lighting for the final day's scene of a very long filming schedule, Hexum took a break and practiced loading blanks into a revolver. The prop master’s assistant talked with Hexum, as Hexum held the pistol in his hand, spinning the cartridge, acting as if he was planning a game of ‘Russian Roulette’. It was announced there would be an additional scene to film. Hexum was handing the gun to the assistant prop master when Hexum suddenly pulled the gun back, raised his hand holding the pistol, pointed it at his temple, said "Oh well, what the Hell!" and pulled the trigger.

The pistol fired, and wadding from the blank cartridge shattered his skull. The special effects foreman ran onto the set and tried to open Hexum's clenched jaw to get much-needed air into his lungs. He applied a towel to the actor's head wound. The actor was placed onto an emergency wood stretcher, loaded into a studio station wagon, and rushed through the studio gate and across the street to Century City Hospital's Emergency Room. Jon-Erik Hexum was declared brain-dead on 18 October 1984.

On top of all that, it is worth getting hold of Jean-Pierre’s book to add a background vista which changes your viewpoint of the events as they have been described. But don’t expect spoilers in my review here!

This is Jean-Pierre’s second book - his first was a novel, “Abracadabra Alakazam”, described as “A mystery caper that takes the reader through two comically twisted tales of best intentions gone haywire. In spite of a deck stacked against her, a naïve young woman with a mysterious past rises to her fame, fortune and romance with a little cunning and lots of magic.” Released just over a decade ago, in contrast “The Naked Truth” proves truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

The cast of players in the book is impressive. You’ll find mentions and anecdotes of Fred Astaire, Buddy Ebsen, Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, David Hemmings, Louis Jourdan, Jimmy Kirkwood, Patricia Neal, Sarah Miles, Ann Miller, Eleanor Parker, Barbara Rush, Susan Strasberg, Lana Turner, Nancy Walker and Mae West. To name but a few!

The conversations with those who became close friends, including June Lockhart (Lost in Space), Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) and Jean Simmons (North and South), give context to the workings of Hollywood. And most red-blooded males will be green with envy concerning the details of fitting sessions involving the likes of Ursula Andress, Ahna Capri, Britt Eklund, Pamela Hensley and Kim Cattrall.

For those who are keen to learn more about the craft of costume design, Jean-Pierre does not disappoint on this front. You will discover how designs originate, from creative concepts, production meetings and the development of initial sketches, all of which precede the finding, cutting and blending of fabrics and colours to meet the sometimes-conflicting demands of the script. The concluding finishing touches of costume construction, where the accessories can lift everything else to another level, round out the knowledge bank which is on offer within this title.

Throughout, the advice of Jean-Pierre’s mentor, Edith Head, is fondly recalled, a voice of experience guiding him through assorted minefields. These issues are not only in terms of costume options and possibilities, but also in nurturing how to retain his composure in the face of all adversity, originated by obstreperous actors, demanding directors and powerful producers.

Jean-Pierre noted to the hollywoodonthepotomac.com website that one of the reasons he wrote this book was as a result of working with numerous youth-recovery support organisations. He began doing so after hearing so many terrible stories about the youth of today, distressed and unhappy, who can’t seem to deal with life. Their reaction can see them deciding not to go on, and in taking such a decision they commit suicide, often in very public ways. He said: "It’s so sad that they have no self-awareness, and they don’t realise that it takes a lot of determination and a lot of fortitude to get through the business... You have to constantly keep pushing yourself and going forward, whether you don’t feel like you’re going anywhere or not."

As the news release notes, “The Naked Truth” is “an engaging chronicle of a crucial 12-year period when the dogged pursuit of higher profits radically changed the entertainment industry and replaced singular, custom-made designs with cut-rate, ready-to-wear on rolling racks”. In amongst hilarious barbed remarks (some of which I will steal for my own uses!), we have pathos and a considerable sadness for what was lost by the industry. Cutting corners does not a classy venture make!

A personal autographed copy of “The Naked Truth” is $35.00 including USPS First Class Mail domestic shipping in the USA – for UK customers, you need to add $25.00 (total $60.00) for International First Class shipping - http://www.jean-pierredorleac.com/books/

Alternatively, for UK buyers you can get hold of a standard copy of ”The Naked Truth: An Irreverent Chronicle of Delirious Escapades”The Naked Truth via Amazon UK.

 

Last modified on Thursday, 28 May 2015 18:25

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