Miles White, Musical Theatre Costume Designer, Dead at 85

News   Miles White, Musical Theatre Costume Designer, Dead at 85 Miles White, the Broadway costume designer who created the look of Billy Bigelow, Conrad Birdie and the "real" and "dream" Curlys and Laureys, died Feb. 17 at the age of 85, according to The New York Times.
Jan Clayton and John Raitt in the original Carousel, with costumes by Miles White.
Jan Clayton and John Raitt in the original Carousel, with costumes by Miles White.

Miles White, the Broadway costume designer who created the look of Billy Bigelow, Conrad Birdie and the "real" and "dream" Curlys and Laureys, died Feb. 17 at the age of 85, according to The New York Times.

Mr. White designed for plays, but his indelible ideas were most linked to musical theatre and groundbreaking shows such as Oklahoma! and Carousel, whose mix of dream ballets and serious naturalism required both fancy and earthiness. He reportedly resisted the Oklahoma! gig, but his work on the 1943 musical was hailed and would be copied over the years.

According to Max Wilk’s "OK! The Story of Oklahoma!," Mr. White’s design inspiration for the famous dream ballet of the show was from turn-of-the-century cards of provocatively dressed women. He referred to a Montgomery Ward catalog (circa 1905) for inspiration for the more realistic period costumes and accessories. Most of Mr. White’s original costumes drawings were lost in a warehouse fire.

Mr. White’s Broadway design debut was the 1938 tuner, Right This Way, and he went on to garb characters in Best Foot Forward, Bless You All, Hazel Flagg, Bloomer Girl, The Day Before Spring, Jamaica, Take Me Along, Bye Bye Birdie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Tricks and designed for ballet, circuses, movies ("Around the World in 80 Days," "The Greatest Show on Earth," "There’s No Business Like Show Business") and ice shows.

He put rock star Conrad Birdie of Bye Bye Birdie in gold lame, real and dream Curlys and Laureys in simple cottons and bold colors, respectively, and gave barrel-chested John Raitt a pullover and a kerchief around his neck. Mr. White was born in Oakland, CA, and educated at the University of California Berkeley.

One of this last major projects was redesigning the High Button Shoes sequence for 1989’s Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.

--Kenneth Jones