It was October 1943 when Columbia began production on a new film starring MAE WEST: "The Heat's On." [This movie was released on 9 February 1944.]
• • Production on Mae West's wardrobe began that October with a very special designer - - the dean of period costumes: Walter Plunkett.
• • Born in Oakland, California, Walter Plunkett [2 June 1902 - 8 March 1982] studied law at the University of California, but showed greater interest in the campus theatrical group. In 1923, Plunkett moved to New York and launched himself as a stage actor, as well as a costume and set designer. After an interval in Greenwich Village, he moved back to the West Coast - - this time to Hollywood - - and found work as a movie extra. His thespian flame burned out; he soon made a fortuitous career change to costume designer.
• • In 1927, Walter Plunkett's first screen credit as a costume designer appeared. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, while working at RKO, he transformed a huge costume and wardrobe department into an efficient, creative studio asset. Enjoying free reign at RKO, Walter Plunkett spun creations that rivaled the work of his contemporaries (Travis Banton and Adrian).
• • By 1936 Walter Plunkett was known as the foremost authority on period costumes. His best-known work was seen in "Gone with the Wind" and "Singin' in the Rain," in which he lampooned his initial style of the Roaring 20s. Unfortunately, the Academy had not yet devised a category for "Best Costumes" - - or Plunkett surely would have won. Author Margaret Mitchell loved the way he dressed Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett O'Hara).
• • By 1943, when he outfitted Mae West, he was quite in demand.
• • In 1951, Plunkett shared an Academy Award with Orry-Kelly and Irene for "An American in Paris." Plunkett retired in 1966, leaving behind a distinguished body of work in films, on Broadway, and for the Metropolitan Opera.
• • Photo: Mae West costume • • Walter Plunkett 1943 • •