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‘Superman’ Costume Designer Yvonne Blake Dies at 78

MADRID — Yvonne Blake, an Academy Award-winning costume designer and indefatigable recent president of the Spanish Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences, died Tuesday on Madrid having suffered a stroke this January. She was 78.

Manchester-born and a grant-winning student at its Regional College of Art & Design, Blake worked as an intern at costume house Berman’s, becoming an assistant costume designer on Hammer Studios’ underrated “Never Take Sweets from a Stranger,” released in 1960, its 1961 “The Shadow of My Cat” and George Cukor’s “My Fair Lady” (1964).

Also working on François Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Blake talents were rapidly recognized: She had risen to the full status of costume designer by 1966.

Meeting her future husband, Spaniard Gil Carretero, on the set of Richard Quine’s Spain-shot “Gun Crazy,” Blake won an Oscar aged only 31 in 1972, along with Antonio Castillo, for her work on “Nicholas and Alexander,” which brought her back to Spain.

She went on to design costumes in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” returned to Spain for Richard Lester’s “The Three Musketeers” and “The Four Musketeers,” winning the latter’s only Oscar nomination in 1976 – the beginning of a decades-long collaboration and friendship with Lester, which saw her dress Audrey Hepburn – the most elegant of all her actresses, she once said – in “Robin and Marion.”

In 1976, Blake designed the original Superman costume for Christopher Reeve in Richard Donner’s “Superman,” providing notes which were to establish his look for many movie iterations and are her most quoted design: “Leotard in shimmering blue two-way stretch fabric worn over fake muscles and harness for flying. Capes to be made in various flowing fashion for resting. Boots in glove leather or elastic with small heel. ‘S’ motif in red and gold on breast and again in all gold on back of cape. Gold metal belt with ‘S’ buckle.”

By then, however, though big shoots came ever less to Spain, Blake had settled there. An institution in Spain — she won four Spanish Academy Goya Awards for Spanish films, including for “Rowing in the Wind,” starring Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley —  she was elected unopposed as president of the Spanish Academy in 2016.

Charming, ever-smiling, speaking a fluent Spanish if with a heavy English accent which never left her, and a person admired and liked across the board throughout the Spanish industry, she calmed the waters at the Academy after recent polemics and introduced highly sensible reforms, such as the broadening of its membership.

Blake said she never thought of retiring and came to have much more faith in Spanish filmmaking and its industry than many Spaniards.

“I witnessed [Yvonne Blake’s] enormous generosity, passion and dedication. At her age, she chose to work for all of us, took up the reins of the Spanish Academy in difficult times. Her work has been decisive for the new stage of its modernization which we’re now living,” said Mariano Barroso, current Academy president.

Her stroke caught her in her Academy office working, as ever.

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