Jeakins, Dorothy

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JEAKINS, Dorothy

Costume Designer. Nationality: American. Born: California, 1914. Education: Attended Otis Art Institute. Career: Stage and TV designer; 1948—first film as costume designer, Joan of Arc. Awards: Academy Awards for Joan of Arc, 1948; Samson and Delilah, 1950; The Night of the Iguana, 1964. Died: 21 November 1995.

Films as Costume Designer:


Joan of Arc (Fleming) (co)


Samson and Delilah (DeMille) (co)


Belles on Their Toes (Levin); The Big Sky (Hawks); The Greatest Show on Earth (DeMille) (co); Les Misérables (Milestone); Lure of the Wilderness (Negulesco); My Cousin Rachel (Koster); The Outcasts of Poker Flat (Newman); Stars and Stripes Forever (Koster); Treasure of the Golden Condor (Daves)


Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef (Webb); City of Bad Men (Jones); Inferno (Baker); The Kid from Left Field (Jones); Niagara (Hathaway); Titanic (Negulesco); White Witch Doctor (Hathaway)


Three Coins in the Fountain (Negulesco)


Friendly Persuasion (Wyler)


The Ten Commandments (DeMille) (co)


South Pacific (Logan)


Green Mansions (M. Ferrer)


Elmer Gantry (R. Brooks); Let's Make Love (Cukor); The Unforgiven (Huston)


The Children's Hour (Wyler)


All Fall Down (Frankenheimer); The Music Man (da Costa)


The Best Man (Schaffner); Ensign Pulver (Logan); The Night of the Iguana (Huston)


The Fool Killer (Gonzalez); The Sound of Music (Wise)


Any Wednesday (Miller); Hawaii (Hill); Violent Journey


The Flim-Flam Man (Kershner); Reflections in a Golden Eye (Huston)


Finian's Rainbow (Coppola); The Fixer (Frankenheimer); The Stalking Moon (Mulligan)


True Grit (Hathaway)


Little Big Man (Penn); The Molly Maguires (Ritt)


Fat City (Huston); Fuzz (Colla)


The Iceman Cometh (Frankenheimer)


Young Frankenstein (M. Brooks)


The Hindenburg (Wise)


Audrey Rose (Wise)


The Betsy (Petrie)


The Postman Always Rings Twice (Rafelson); On Golden Pond (Rydell)


The Dead (The Dubliners) (Huston)


On JEAKINS: articles—

Chierichetti, David, in Hollywood Costume Design, New York, 1976.

Obituary in The Los Angeles Times, 28 November 1995.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 4–10 December 1995; 11–17 December 1995.

Obituary in Classic Images (Muscatine), February 1996.

Obituary in TCI, February 1996.

* * *

Dorothy Jeakins was abandoned by her natural parents for unknown reasons, and she had an unhappy childhood. She lived with a foster mother who frequently whipped her and threatened to send her to reform school. Often left alone, she would roam the streets of Los Angeles as a young child and ask people for free food and clothes. She called it a "Dickensian existence." She has described herself as "pathologically shy and neurotically modest," but very secure in her sense of taste and style, with the "sensitive soul of an artist." Perhaps as a result of her shyness, virtually nothing has been written about Jeakins or her impressive film credits.

At Fairfax High School she found plays to be a "sweet escape into fantasy." Encouraged into drama by sympathetic teachers, she discovered her vocation when she visited a costume house and found a means of interpreting the plays she loved through costume. She attended Otis Art Institute on a scholarship and continued to frequent the public library to read and illustrate the characters of plays.

She worked for the WPA at the age of 19 during the Depression, and then moved on to Disney studios as an illustrator for $16 a week until a strike left her unemployed. She next became an illustrator of fashion layouts for I. Magnin's advertising department. Eventually a studio art director saw her sketches and hired her as an assistant designer for Joan of Arc, her first major film for which she won her first Oscar. (She had also been an assistant to the designer Ernst Dryden for Dr. Rhythm, 1938.)

Jeakins has an impressive number of credits, almost equally divided between the theater and motion pictures. Some plays she designed for on Broadway, she later designed as films, including South Pacific and The Sound of Music.

Jeakins's noted specialty is for ethnic and period costumes, as well as her use of color. With each film Jeakins considered how she could use costume in a new way, and when searching for inspiration for the color scheme considered such natural elements as "wet stones or peonies or pullet-eggs beige and white or Chinese-coolie blues." The designer Edith Head once commented that Jeakins had a particularly good eye for color. On a separate occasion, Jeakins said candidly of Edith Head that "her work is extremely mediocre . . . but Edith deserves a lot of credit for hanging in there." Jeakins was also budget-conscious when she worked on films and made elegant costumes with inexpensive muslin. As a designer, she said of herself, "I'm dependable, experienced, organized, aesthetic, creative."

—Susan Perez Prichard