Costume designer Theadora Van Runkle, who was Oscar nominated for “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Godfather: Part II” and “Peggy Sue Got Married,” died Friday, Nov. 4, in West Hollywood from complications of lung cancer, which she had been battling for almost a year. She was 82.
“Theadora was one of the most iconic costume designers we’ve ever had as well as one of the greatest illustrators and artists,” said Mary Rose, president of the board for the Costume Designers Guild, who knew Van Runkle for 25 years. “On a person level, she was whimsical, most charming, sometimes childlike and always kind. She was a free and wonderful person, and will be greatly missed.”
Raised in Beverly Hills and married at the age of 16, Van Runkle attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and began as a fashion illustrator. Her first film credit was for work as a sketch artist on the 1966 film “Hawaii.”
She drew an Oscar nomination for her very first film as a costume designer, “Bonnie and Clyde,” for which Van Runkle was recommended by multiple Oscar-winning designer Dorothy Jeakins after the latter could not do the picture due to a scheduling conflict. The film was released in 1967 amid the fashion frenzy for miniskirts, but hemlines dropped in response to the popularity of the 1930s outfits Van Runkle had designed for star Faye Dunaway. Van Runkle would continue to design for Dunaway for a number of years; she was credited as the wardrobe designer for the actress on 1968’s “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
Van Runkle’s next films included “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!” (for which she designed a great deal of hippie regalia); Steve McQueen actioner “Bullitt”; Elia Kazan’s “The Arrangement,” with Kirk Douglas and Dunaway; “Myra Breckinridge”; and the 1974 adaptation of musical “Mame,” with Lucille Ball, for which she designed a plethora of elaborate hats.
Also in 1974, Van Runkle scored her second Oscar nomination for her work designing the tailored mobwear in “The Godfather: Part II.”
She also demonstrated a flair for early 20th century fashion in the films “Nickelodeon” and “New York, New York,” in which she provided Liza Minnelli with a sleeker look than had previously been associated with the actress; she brought her artistry to the fashion of the 1950s in “Peggy Sue Got Married,” for which she picked up her third Oscar nom. Other film highlights include “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Everybody’s All American” and “The Butcher’s Wife.”
Van Runkle picked up an Emmy in 1983 for her work on an episode of the CBS series “Wizards and Warriors.”
Her final credit was a Paul Sorvino-directed TV adaptation of “That Championship Season” in 1999.
In addition to her career in film and television, Van Runkle also taught at the Chouinard and the Otis Parsons School.
Van Runkle appeared in the 1995 AMC special “The Hollywood Fashion Machine.”
She won a Career Achievement Award from the Costume Designers Guild in 2002.
Van Runkle is survived by a son and a daughter.