Nolan Miller dresses the great ones

May 29, 1991|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

NOLAN MILLER is a man you can talk to for hours. He not only dressed the stars, he knew them personally, Barbara, Bette, Joan, Ginger and many others.

He's been a fashion designer for more than 30 years. He began with ''The June Allyson'' anthology show and since then has done the costumes for ''Dynasty,'' ''The Colbys,'' ''Charlie's Angels'' and ''Hotel,'' among others.

His latest work was for the movie ''Soapdish,'' which stars Sally Field and Whoopi Goldberg. The film opens at area theaters on Friday.

''It was great doing wardrobes for both those women,'' Miller says. ''Sally has never worn a glamorous wardrobe on screen. Most of the time, she wears cotton dresses. And Whoopi was great. She said she had no sense of style, so she was going to leave it to me, and she did.''

Miller brings his sense of style to all aspects of his job. When working on ''Inconvenient Woman,'' a recent television movie starring Jill Eikenberry and Rebecca De Mornay, one of the leading ladies would show up with her hair uncombed, wearing no make-up and dressed in shabby-chic clothing. Miller told her to comb her hair and wear something more attractive.

''I told her that I couldn't dress her if she was going to look like that. I told her that if she doesn't like to wear stylish clothing . . . she wouldn't be comfortable in them.''

''We did a press promotion for 'Soapdish' in California, and one of the women in the cast appeared in torn jeans. That's all right for the street but not when you're talking to the press,'' Miller says.

Most stars, Miller says, accept his creations. Joan Fontaine was one who did not. ''I did something for her that was very Ginger Rogers, and she said she felt overpowered by it and brought something in herself."

Miller's dress shop is in Beverly Hills. His partner is Donna Peterson, who was with Helen Rose for 16 years, and before that, Edith Head. ''I do all the rough sketches, and Donna does all the rendering,'' he said.

After 30 years in the business, Miller does have stories to tell, some of which you can't repeat.

Miller dressed Davis. He also admired her. ''That daughter,'' he said. ''What those books never said was that Davis adored her.''

''And Crawford's daughter. Well, she was mad because she was cut out of the will. But you could hardly blame Joan. She never saw the girl.''

"Of course, Bette could be a witch. When she died, someone said she was a mean old woman, to which Barbara Stanwyck said, 'Well, that shouldn't be surprising. She was a mean young woman.'"

Miller designed the rich look on "Dynasty" for its nine-year run. He and the producers are now gearing up for a four-hour movie that will reunite all the principals: John Forsythe, Linda Evans and Joan Collins among them. "The 'end' of the series had John in prison for murder, Linda in Switzerland with a brain tumor, and Joan gobbling up the world," Miller says.

"The mini will have John get out of prison, Linda return home and Joan still taking everything."

When he did the television series "Hotel," Davis was the star. She, however, withdrew because of health problems but not before she made a parting shot or two. "'That James Brolin thinks he's so sexy, she said, and they ought to retitle the series 'Motel,' rather than 'Hotel.' All it is is sex,'" Millers says.

Among his possessions is a tape of a one-hour pilot Davis did. It was called ''The Decorator,'' but it was never sold, never telecast.

"It's marvelous," Miller says. "She does all the Davis shtick. It's almost like watching a female impersonator."

Miller also remembers Mae West. "When Mae arrived for fittings, she did so in a limo, and the whole place was excited,'' he says. ''They were stars, then. Today, we have Madonna. OK, she was shocking. Now, it's so what?"

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