Skinny Legs and Other Secrets of a Costumer’s Confessional

Staff Writer, Portland Press Herald

Clothing isn’t the only thing built in the costume shop. Reputations, too, can be made or broken there.

Take the case of Shannon Doherty.

After a recent appearance hosting “Saturday Night Live,” the bad-girl actress made the costumers’ grapevine. The backstage gossip is that she walked off the SNL set with $15,000 worth of clothing.

“She took it all. Right down to the underwear,” grumbles Portland Stage Company’s costume designer Tom Broecker. He also is SNL’s assistant costume designer.

Costumers, says Marcia Whitney, Portland Stage’s costumer, like to jokingly invent “tortures” for difficult actors. There’s the standby: dusting a costume with itching power.

But Whitney says she fantasizes something a little more subtle: “Sewing up the crotch with plastic thread,” she chuckles.

“When you cut that thread it’s like a pinpoint so you go to look for the pin in the crotch of your pants and you can’t find it.” She shrieks with laughter.

“These are not things I’ve ever done,” Whitney says, recovering herself. “Mostly things that we fantasize about”

Ultimately, says Broecker, “very few [actors] are pills”

“My feeling is that, if it weren’t for the actor I wouldn’t have a job,” says Whitney. “So I bloody well ought to make him happy to the best of my ability.”

And what is Whitney’s take on the famous ones?

Of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, with whom she worked on “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” she says: “I loved her dearly. He’s OK, too.”

Bette Davis was “wonderful, very tough, above it, had seen it all before, didn’t want to be bothered by anything petty.”

Marcello Mastroianni?

“Oh my God, I am permanently in love with Marcello.” Whitney worked on the set of “Used People” in 1991. “He’s a total wonderful gentleman with a very funny sense of humor. Skinniest legs I ever saw though.

Whitney says the creative, personal rewards of being a costumer far outweigh the hassles: It’s not a job to go into if you really want to have money in your life,” she says. “But if you want to have interesting times and good challenges and work with some really extraordinary people, it’s a great way to earn a living.”