Partner Oliver Smith
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Miles Edgren White (July 27, 1914 - February 17, 2000) was a top costume designer of Broadway musicals for 25 years. He is known in the entertainment industry for his well rendered, prolific, imaginative and witty designs. He won recognition, including four Donaldson Awards and two Tony Awards. The Donaldson Award was established in 1944 in honor of the founder of Billboard, W. H. Donaldson (1864–1925). These awards were offered in numerous categories, including best new play, best new musical, best performances, best debuts, and best costumes and set designs. These awards were discontinued in 1955, when it was recognized that they were redundant and overshadowed by more prestigious honors. With his partner Oliver Smith, a scenic designer, Miles White designed High Button Shoes (1947), Gentlemen Prefer Blonds (1951), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1962), among many other Broadway productions.
Miles White said of the gay experience in the Hollywood studio era: "It was the best and the worst of times. On the one hand, they didn't care, and you had extraordinary freedom, but on the other, of course they did, and you weren't free at all." "All of the great film costume designers were gay", said Tony Award-winning and Oscar-nominated designer Miles White. "And yes, I think it's true that you can see their gayness in the great designs of a Howard Greer or Adrian. I think one's sexuality does make a difference. I would not have been the same designer I am today had I been straight. Gay designers have a feel for not only the design, but for the clothes themselves and how they'll be worn. We aren't afraid of them. We can imagine wearing them... I know how to wear what I'm drawing. Straight men don't know how twenty layers of chiffon move in contrast to one."
Born in Oakland, CA, in 1914, Miles White knew he was gay at age five. "At least I knew I was different," he said. "There's a photo of my brother and me. I'm about five. He's dressed as a soldier, and I'm done up as a Red Cross army nurse." After graduating with a degree in art from the Unversity of California at Berkeley, White recalled, "I defied my family's wishes and went to Hollywood. I was convinced this was where I wanted a career." White would have to go to Broadway to prove himself. Making a huge splash with "George White's Scandals" in 1942 and the "Ziegfeld Follies" of 1943, he was hired by Samuel Goldwyn on a three-picture contract working on Danny Kaye films. As part of the deal, White also secured a contract for his close friend, scenic designer Stewart Chaney. "I wanted someone I could work with," he said. "Scenic designers for the stage tended to be gay far more often than art directors in Hollywood and I knew I coul work with Stewart. The others I wasn't so sure." Although White would always be, once again, "circumspect and discreet," his gayness was hardly a secret, not to Goldwyn nor later, when he went to work for producer Mike Todd.
Miles White and Oliver Smith, well-known on Broadway (for costumes and scenic design, respectively), rented a house named "Shadows" near the Bridge of Sighs in Cherry Grove. In 1948, Bill Ronin remembered, remembered, Miles White had rented one of the small cottages with “no decoration, not the big handsome places they are now. . . . He took this barren little cottage and just took white sheets and draped the walls, ‘cause the walls weren’t finished, and kerosene lamps—fantastic!” At a party, Stephan Cole and Ray Mann made up an entry with their friends Natalia Murray as Europa and the large and heavy designer Arthur Brill as the bull. Miles White contrived their costumes, on which he drew each of their astrological signs. Natalia’s entrance astride Brill was especially impressive. White made her a bodysuit with fake rubber breasts (left over from a Broadway production) so realistic “she looked bare breasted,” Ray Mann recalled. “The only way you could tell that she was in this vest was the seam.” Once White and Smith hosted the Bestigi Ball at Shadows. The house was decorated to a tee. A beautiful lesbian named Bea Greer came as Cleopatra. She came out of the bay on a barge pulled in by Nubians in black paint. Betty Lee and Maggie Olwen McCorkle went as pirates and arrived in a gondola.
White designed for five movies, and he received Oscar nominations for three of them. These were The Greatest Show on Earth, There's No Business Like Show Business, and Mike Todd's Around the World in 80 Days. White designed costumes for Rodgers and Hammerstein's first two Broadway hits, Oklahoma! and Carousel, and dozens of other musicals as well as ballets, ice shows, circuses, and TV productions. His costume designs for the Ice Capades of 1965 (along with Billy Livingston and Celine Faur) were noted: "And those beautiful costumes are the efforts of Miles White, Billy Livingston and Celine Faur." His last Broadway show was Tricks, in 1973, for which he received a Tony nomination. As musicals were revived, the productions occasionally used his designs, and also true for Fall River Legend for the American Ballet Theater. In 1989 he redesigned the "High Button Shoes" number for Jerome Robbins' Broadway. Costume designer William Ivey Long referred to Miles White as "his hero," in a recording made of the March 20, 2000, memorial service at the York Theater. In this audio recording, he also cited White's "exquisite drawings," works of art in themselves, in addition to their role as working design sketches. Douglas Colby, expert on theater design, tells the story of accompanying White to a performance of Fall River Legend several years ago. He said, "The distinguished costume designer Patricia Zipprodt approached the urbane, monocled gentleman I was accompanying, my friend Miles White, and introduced him to her guests as 'God.' One understood what she meant," Colby concluded. This information appears in the Playbill booklet distributed at the March 20, 2000 Memorial Service. As reported in The New York Times, Mary C. Henderson in her book Theater in America, mentioned that Miles White's designs were inspired by the dance and the circus. "His costumes are constructed to move with the performer's body, not an easy feat," she wrote. After Oklahoma!, she noted, he dominated musical comedy costuming for more than 25 years." White died on February 17, 2000.
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