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May 12, 2020

A Tiny Titan

Costume designer Mary Rose leaves a legacy of Television Academy service and advocacy for costume professionals

Libby Slate
  • Invision/AP
  • Invision/AP
  • Invision/AP
  • Invision/AP

A force to be reckoned with. Style icon. Mentor. A woman you didn't say "No" to.

She was diminutive in stature – "No bigger than a minute, and about 90 pounds," as Television Academy vice president of marketing Laurel Whitcomb puts it – but her size was the only thing small about costume designer Mary Rose.

A native of Japan who moved to California to attend college and remained the rest of her life, Rose worked tirelessly over several decades to elevate both the art of costume design and the status of the people plying the television and motion picture costume crafts.

When she died of natural causes March 4, she left behind a storied Television Academy legacy that includes five terms as a governor of the Academy's Costume Design & Supervision peer group between 1998 and 2014; election to the Academy's executive committee in 2002; creator and guest curator of the annual Art of Television Costume Design exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in downtown Los Angeles; host for the Academy Foundation summer internship program and the first chair of the Foundation's former community outreach program, ATAS Cares.

Additionally, she was president of the Costume Designers Guild local 892 for two terms (2007-2013), having previously served as treasurer, and was on the CDG executive board for 15 years.

And of course she amassed a multitude of credits as costume designer, costumer or costume supervisor, designing for Barbara Hershey on several projects including the feature The Stunt Man and the miniseries From Here to Eternity and for Lana Turner on Falcon Crest, and working on such series as Fantasy Island and Crazy Like a Fox.

Prior to her screen career, she designed costumes for Ann-Margret's Las Vegas show and ran her own atelier in the San Fernando Valley.

"Mary Rose always represented her peer group with the most passionate, intelligent caring, that brought respect to the peer group in the boardroom of the Television Academy," says former Academy chairman and CEO John Shaffner.

"She was remarkable. She raised the visibility of the peer group. Whenever she had anything to say, it was important, and worth hearing. She engaged in all aspects of governance with enthusiasm and served on various committees; she was very involved on many levels, and a regular visitor to Academy headquarters.

"She raised the bar and set a wonderful standard with her engagement and her willingness to volunteer – she made it seem a fun and wonderful thing to do. And what she was really proud of was her promotion of television costume design."

Says costume supervisor Betsey Potter, who was a co-governor with Rose for four years and visited her the week before she died, "She fought hard to make people look at the costume designers and bring them recognition.

"This little tiny lady would get up and say, 'We need to do such-and-such.' She worked to expand Academy eligibility; costume designers and supervisors are a very small group."

Membership now includes assistant costume designers, key costumers, costume set people, workroom supervisors, costume illustrators and heads of independent costume manufacturing facilities.

Also thanks to Rose's powers of persuasion, the Emmy Awards costume competition for scripted programming is now divided into three categories: period, fantasy/sci-fi and contemporary.

And, says Whitcomb, "Mary was always there, providing enthusiasm and support for countless Academy members. She was instrumental in the Academy keeping its eye on the future. And she proactively looked for appropriate ways for the Academy to be involved in the community."

Back in 2003, for instance, Rose spearheaded the event "ATAS Cares about Dress for Success," a costume exhibit and fashion show of career-appropriate TV costumes modeled by celebrities and others for the benefit of the Los Angeles chapter of Dress for Success, a nonprofit that helps economically disadvantaged people by providing them clothing and accessories for job interviews.

The Academy's senior director of event production Barbara Chase, who worked with Rose on the event, recalls that they were able to get "an amazing amount" of clothing donations.

The Dress for Success evening was in some ways a precursor to Rose's most enduring Academy contribution.

Having already been involved with FIDM's annual film costume exhibit since its inception, in 2006 Rose launched an annual television costume design exhibit timed for Emmy Awards season, presented as a partnership between the Television Academy and FIDM.

For most of its history, Rose was exhibit producer and guest curator. "Mary Rose was a dear friend of the FIDM Museum, who inspired many costume designers and was a great support to the museum for many years," says FIDM Museum director Barbara Bundy. "She will be missed by so many of us."

The Art of Television Costume Design showcases the work of Emmy-winning, Emmy-nominated and many other costume designers and supervisors and is now the site of the annual Costume Design & Supervision peer group nominee reception.

It is on display to the public from July to October (the reception and exhibit are subject this year to pandemic health considerations). For most of its history, Rose was exhibit producer and guest curator.

As Potter recalls, "She was involved in all the details: the design layout of the floor, the colors of the display, the lighting, the mannequins – what will the faces be, and the hair? There were incredibly intense discussions about the mannequins. If the show was about African-Americans, would the mannequins be African American?"

As for the costumes themselves, "It's hard to get show producers to release costumes, but Mary was president of the Costume Designers Guild, so she could go to the designers," Potter says.

Once the costumes were on the mannequins ready for exhibition, Rose ignored the protocol that at that point they must remain as they appear. "She would say, 'The left shoulder needs to be repaired,' or whatever."

Potter credits Rose with advancing Potter's own career by encouraging her to become active in the peer group and introducing her to costume designer Van Broughton Ramsey, with whom she went on to work for 20 years.

For his part, Ramsey, also a former peer group governor, says, "She was a great friend, and most supportive of everything I did. I miss her very much." Friend or not, "She was such a force. You wouldn't say 'No' to her because you knew she'd cut you to shreds. She'd call you to go dress the FIDM mannequins: 'You will get this dressed.'"

Ramsey also notes that Rose's late husband Gordon, who had been an insurance company vice president when they met, advised Rose when she became treasurer of the Costume Designers Guild local and remained an unofficial consultant through her presidency.

He had a knack for investing and was able to grow the CDG's assets substantially.

Indeed, Rose was the first recipient of the Guild's Distinguished Service Award, notes CDG local executive director Rachael Stanley.

"We wanted to honor her after she stopped being president," Stanley says. "She loved to serve. It was just in her blood. She was a force to be reckoned with, a go-getter who never wanted to sit down. If she were here now, she'd have been on the phone the entire time during shelter-in-place."

Rose was a force in her personal life as well. She had married her first husband, an engineer, in northern California, where she had attended the University of San Francisco, and had a son, Casey, and daughter, Joan.

She divorced him and moved to southern California as a single mother.

She had already begun making clothing for her children, teaching herself to design, cut and sew – in speaking of Rose recently, a longtime friend, costume designer May Routh, said she was particularly impressed by the quality of Rose's sewing – and back then, schoolmates' mothers began to notice.

Rose started taking orders, then moved on to women's custom fashions.

She later began selling her clothing at a store in Century City, drawing the attention of costume pros and actresses from nearby Twentieth Century Fox Studios, which launched her entertainment career.

Not surprisingly, her friends and colleagues all note what a "fashion plate" she was, as Ramsey terms it, with stylish clothing, exquisite jewelry, just the right shoes and distinctive hat – and a purple streak in her hair. "She was 70 years old then!" Ramsey says.

Rose was not only supportive of her colleagues, she was a mentor to up-and-comers via the Television Academy Foundation's summer internship program, serving as a host in the costume design category.

Her final intern, JR Hawbaker, is now working as an assistant costume designer in film and television, most recently on the feature Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

"After leaving Chicago the day after my college graduation, it was my first time ever in Los Angeles, and Mary Rose was the first person I met," Hawbaker relates. "She took a young, quiet, nervous and excited girl to lunch at her favorite sushi restaurant and from that very first day she was warm and open with her knowledge and storytelling as only Mary could be.

"At my first lunch in L.A., she clued me in to, not only how to hold chopsticks better, but a beginning knowledge of how this big industry town turns. Mary drove me around to introduce me to my three placements.

"During the course of the internship, we touched base every week, and I could not have been more thankful for the mentorship. And because Mary Rose was the connector for the internship, I think, as an intern, I benefited from some of the most open and supportive crews and talents I could have hoped to meet."

Rose's successors as peer group governors have also learned from her example.

"Mary was mentor, teacher, disciplinarian and a leader. I adored Mary and found her to be an iconic character in our professional lives," says costume designer and supervisor Terry Ann Gordon, a recent former governor and current intern host.

"Her determination to showcase the artistry and value of costuming to storytelling raised recognition for costume design's contribution to production.

"Throughout my tenure as governor, my co-governor Sue Bub and I worked to 'grow' our vision and membership. We have Mary to thank for paving the way and giving us a sturdy foundation upon which to build.

"Current governors Laura Guzik and Luke Reichle are firm in their commitment to build our ongoing vision and progress. We all owe a debt of thanks to Mary's leadership and determination."

For his part, says costume designer Reichle, "Mary Rose's help in navigating both the Costume Designers Guild and the Television Academy was invaluable. But most of all, she instilled in me a great pride in the work we do as costume designers.

"She was our champion, fiercely dedicated to promoting the art of costume design and lifting the profile of our craft to previously unknown heights. She had a brilliant sense of humor and incisive wit, making her the most entertaining person to stand next to at any event."

Says costume supervisor Guzik, "Mary Rose was instrumental in making me want to step up. In a business where it's mostly women, costumes, along with hair and makeup, were often referred to as 'vanities,' and Mary Rose worked very hard to get us respect for what we do.

"Luke and I take our [leadership positions] very seriously, as did Terry Ann and Sue. We're looking at the various issues. We want our peers to be respected.

"Mary Rose ruled with an iron fist, but there was always a warmth," Guzik adds. "She was one of a kind, and she definitely will be missed."

Rose is survived by her son and daughter. A celebration of her life to be held at the Television Academy is on hold pending the lifting of pandemic precautions.

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