Hollywood’s late costume designer Milo Anderson created looks for the stars that are icons of style. But ask anyone about him and blank stares are the response. His name was simple, as were the styles he created: Joan Crawford’s waitress uniform in Mildred Pierce, Marlene Dietrich’s dark blue trench-coat, skirt and beret in Manpower, Lana Turner’s debut “sweater-girl” Angora sweater in They Won’t Forget, and the chorus girls’ costumes in 42nd Street.
Milo Anderson was born in Chicago on May 9, 1910. His parents moved to Los Angeles when Milo was 8, He attended Fairfax High School and during the summers worked at Western Costume. He got to do some designing. One costume he was remembered for was Common Clay (1930), that starred Constance Bennett. One tip she gave him stayed with him throughout his career, “It’s not what you put on a costume, it’s what you take off that counts.”
When Milo had several costume sketches in a portfolio he took them to MGM’s head designer Adrian. Adrian was not encouraging. He did however recommend him to Samuel Goldwyn, who was then short of a designer since Coco Chanel had not finished the designs for the film The Greeks Had a Word for Them. So he was hired to finish that film and then to design the costumes for The Kid from Spain, a big musical. It was 1932 and he was too young to sign the contract, his mother had to do it.
Another unforgettable costume that Milo Anderson “designed” was for Joan Crawford in Rain, 1932. The movie was a re-make of Sadie Thompson that had starred Gloria Swanson, and also the Broadway play with Jeanne Eagels. Joan Crawford had asked to be loaned out to United Artist to play the role. She wanted a change in her usual roles to play something more serious and less glamorous. She got more than she bargained for. The role of Sadie Thompson was that of a prostitute. Milo was told to make something quickly, even though Joan only had two costume changes in the entire movie, and she wore one through most of it. That costume was a checked suit with short sleeves that he bought at a shop on Hollywood Blvd. He bought it large enough for her shoulders and fitted the rest to her measurements. It was perfect for her role, but the problem was she would have to wear it through the entire movie while it was undergoing through South Seas weather. Milo went back to the store but that had been the only model. Wardrobe ended up silk- screening the checks onto like fabric and tailoring duplicate suits.
Milo had been loaned out to United Artists as well as Joan Crawford for Rain. It was a pleasant experience. working with her at the time, although the film did poorly at the box office and it was too much out of character for Joan’s fans – or the critics. While at United Artists he also worked with Adrian designing Mary Pickford’s and the others cast’s costumes for Secrets (1933).
Milo started working at Warner Brothers in 1934. He had previously designed its production of Footlight Parade with Jimmy Cagney on loan-out the previous year. In 1935 he designed the costumes for Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in Captain Blood, two stars he would work with repeatedly at Warner Bros. He also designed one of their most famous films together The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Milo cleverly devised the use of metallic painted rope to look like chain-mail for many of the costumes. This avoided the noisy clanking of metal and was of course lighter. At Warner Bothers Milo Anderson was working along side of the famous designer Orry-Kelly. Fortunately Milo did not have a big ego or felt competitive. They split their assignments and there were plenty to go around.
The decade of the 1940s started with some big movies for Humphrey Bogart and his female co-stars at Warner’s. They Drive by Night (1940) gave him the opportunity to design for both Ann Sheridan again and with the new Warner Bros. star Ida Lupino. This film about long-haul truckers and their dames (and a femme fatale) gave Milo a range of costume options. The following year Milo costumed another pairing of Bogart and Ida Lupino: High Sierra. All though it would become an all-time classic, it was not much of a costume movie.
That same year of 1941 presented him with the opportunity of dressing Marlene Dietrich in Manpower. Milo recalled that Marlene was very hard to satisfy – she had previously been dressed by Travis Banton and Irene. This film did not call for a glamorous wardrobe, but Milo Anderson created enticing costumes for Marlene and the two became good friends.
The U.S was now in WW II and movies took on different themes. Humphrey Bogart had another classic with To Have and Have Not in 1944. This was the film that introduced Lauren Bacall. Orry-Kelly was supposed to have designed it but he briefly served in the Army. In his autobiography he said he made the costume sketches for Bacall. Milo Anderson stated he designed the costumes for the film and he is listed as the designer in the credits. At issue is the iconic hounds-tooth suit with the peplum jacket she wears in a key scene. That suit started a fashion trend. But the film’s director Howard Hawks also claimed credit, stating he wanted Bacall to wear the same type of suit his wife “Slim” Hawks was wearing. Milo Anderson said he actually had the idea of using Slim’s suit – fitting it for Bacall after nipping the waist and broadening the shoulders.
Milo then had the most difficult job of his career: working on Mildred Pierce. Joan Crawford had just moved over to Warner Bros. after 20 years at MGM. Director Michael Curtiz did not want her for the title role in that film, but he was obliged to have her do a screen test. With a hostile attitude, Curtiz yanked her blouse off, shouting, “You and your damned Adrian shoulder pads!” Only she had bought that outfit at Sears and there were no shoulder pads. She had wanted to appear in-character for the screen-test. Milo said she was very difficult to work with, unlike their first collaboration on Rain. He attributed that to her nervousness from being at Warner Bros and not knowing if she would have a future there. And she was constantly fighting with Curtiz. She got along famously with Ann Blythe, who walloped her on the staircase scene.
Milo also created a stunning look for Patricia Neal, not the typical Glamorous star, in The Fountainhead (1949). She co-starred with Gary Cooper who played an architect. Milo dressed Patricia Neal in a black silk peignoir that she wore for her opening scene, and later a lace nightgown for a seduction scene.
By the early 1950s Milo Anderson became disillusioned with the state of designing costumes for Hollywood movies. Warner Brothers wasn’t even giving him design credit half the time. He finished designing So Big for Jane Wyman in 1953, who he had worked with since his first film, The Kid from Spain, in 1932. This was their 30th film together. He left Warner Bros. after that and designed for Catalina swim wear. He designed the costumes for one more Jane Wyman movie, at her request , Miracle in the Rain (1956).
In an interview with the late movie costume historian David Chierichetti, Milo Anderson said about his time during the Golden Age of Hollywood, “We ran ourselves ragged trying to keep up with the demands of our jobs, but we had the best materials, the best craftsmen and the most glorious women to wear them. It was an unforgettable era.”
After he left Warner Brothers Milo Anderson joined the firm of Robert Muir & Associates as an interior designer. He also taught classes periodically on costume design. He maintained a friendship with fellow costume designer Howard Shoup – “Shoupie” as his friends called him.
Milo Anderson died on November 10, 1984 at age 74 from emphysema. Then and now he is little known despite the many stars he dressed and the beautiful iconic garments and costumes he designed.
39 thoughts on “MILO ANDERSON: DESIGNER IN THE SHADOWS”
Very interesting commentary. Thank you.
I think the women’s clothes in “Young Man With a Horn” (1950) were especially stylish. I believe that Milo Anderson designed them.
Yes, Milo Anderson designed the costumes for Lauren Bacall and Doris Day in Young Man with a Horn. They were both very well dressed in this film.
I just watched The Fountainhead on TMC, and the first thing I noticed were the breathtaking costumes. So much so that I had to look up who designed and found this article. I now know who Milo Anderson is, and how important he was to so many movies & generations. 2022 and he is as influential as ever. Thank you for sharing this. His work is still inspiring and enlightening!
Thanks for your comment Christopher. It was too bad the TCM “Follow the Thread” program didn’t focus on the costume designer Milo Anderson. This movie especially had some of his great costumes
and fashions as you noticed. But at least you found my blog post so you were able to find some information on this accomplished but not well known designer.
I also just watched the movie and was compelled to look up the designer, which Ive never done before. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!
Thanks for your comment Anne. I assume you watched The Fountainhead, which indeed had those gorgeous Milo Anderson designed costumes for Patricia Neal.
He designed many other films and had a great working relationship with Jane Wyman.
I have long known the name “Milo Anderson” but, as with most folks, I sometimes forget to associate THAT name with “THAT” movie. But, right now, I am watching The Fountainhead on the TCM channel. And I HAD to come to this site to find out who did the timeless designs for Patricia Neal.
No question: I would love to see ANY woman with a decent figure wearing those clothes today. They are absolutely stunning and used the black & white form of the movie to wonderful advantage.
One gown in particular proves the last point. Look at the evening gown which Neal wears for the Howard Roark “coming-out” party after the opening of the Enright House. Could anything be simpler or more alluring?
And, may I assume that he dressed the men as well? The design of Roark’s (Cooper’s) tweed jackets makes a statement of the character’s attitude all by itself.
All around, Anderson is a designer for the ages.
Thanks for your comment Roxann. Milo Anderson was indeed a very talented designer. The coming out party gown was very beautiful. My favorite was the equally simple pleated black
silk peignoir. I was glad that TCM showed the the film. But Anderson did not design the men’s garments, and I don’t know who did.
Thanks for the prompt reply. (I also forgot about the long, slinky sequined number; oh, how I wish I could wear THAT dress!!!!)
I hope you keep writing loads of articles which bring much deserved attention to the behind-the-cameras crews.
Yes Roxann, that black sequined (or was it beaded?) short-sleeved gown was fabulous. My next post will be a bit different but I’ll return again to costumes and designees
right after. Thanks again for your comments.
Thank you for sharing this informative biography about a little-known genius. I’m a huge classic movie buff, and I have only just discovered him after being blown away by the astonishing pleated gown Geraldine Fitzgerald wears when attempting to seduce her ex in Three Strangers (1946). I love a pleat more than is seemly, and what Milo Anderson achieves in that dress is absolutely unique. I’d call it ground-breaking, only nobody that I know of has even attempted to follow in his footsteps. The draping in the back tailored into a sharp herringbone that runs like a spine down the center of her back, the criss-cross over the pleating that rises in a V from the waist to the shoulders and then radiates from a single point in the middle of the shoulder down the sleeves… Truly a monumental work of architecture in gown form.
And don’t even get me started on the dress with the built-in hood from that movie! Milo Anderson should have a museum dedicated to his work.
Thank you for your comments and appreciation for Milo Anderson. As you say, he deserves a museum. Your love of pleating should point you to the work of William Travilla. He designed many
of Marilyn Monroe’s gowns and his sunburst pleating work was outstanding.
Thank you for your informative article. His costumes are a real treat! I just wanted to add a little different perspective on his costumes for Robin Hood. Back in 1938 historical accuracy in period pieces was not often a thing that was done. Now, I’m not saying that the Robin Hood costumes were historically accurate, but I’d like to point out that during a time when accuracy was almost avoided Mr. Anderson added some surprisingly spot on touches to Dame Olivia’s outfits. I love the “Middle Eastern” touches he sprinkled around that would have been brought back during the Crusades! Genius!
Thanks for your comment Holly. Yes, Milo Anderson did add these historical touches, while not necessarily being completely period accurate. But the costumes had flair.
I totally agree. I looked up the costume designer for Adventures of Robin Hood and then started watching each film from WB to see his name.
Thanks for your comment Nell. He designed some great costumes for some great stars and movies. He should be better known.
Thank you Christian, for shining a much-needed light on the
superb talent that was Milo Anderson.He somewhat lived in Adrian’s shadow, when he had so much to offer himself.He is a much underrated costume designer in my opinion, so it is a breath of fresh air to find a detailed post about him online.In ‘Romance On The High Seas’ (1948) he creates the most stunning wardrobes for Doris Day’s screen debut
as Georgia Garrett (WOW) and Janis Paige’s Elvira Kent.He employs precision tailoring combined with beautiful draped detailing (a very accomplished look) not only in the smart series of suits the women wear, but also in the evening gowns.He also adds more than enough femine touches to his costumes via his stylish use of millinery applique/ detail/fabric choice /draping/silhouette to off-set his starkly clean, tailored looks.One very notable aspect of Milo’s 1940’s work was the extremely padded shoulder lines he employed (and not just for Joan Crawford); indeed, his uniquely-styled shoulder padding pre-dated (and no doubt inspired) Nolan Miller’s work for Linda Evans’ character Krystle, in ‘Dynasty’ by forty years or so!
Thanks for your comment Gary. So true. He was very over-looked but so very talented. And that movie Romance on the High Seas is a jewel of fashion and fun. Your
point about Nolan Miller is very apt. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
I watch the 1945 movie, San Antonio, on GRIT tv this weekend and was so impressed with the gowns that I had to find out who designed them for Alexis Smith. She wore a different dress in every scene. That was the ONLY time that I have seen a dance hall singer dressed all in white. Milo Anderson must have thought that cerulean blue was a good color for her. He used it is al least two gowns she wore. I found myself watching every scene to see what she was dressed in next. The colors used in the gowns were bright.
He left a legacy of beautiful designs in the films for which he worked.
Thanks for your comment Peggy. Milo Anderson was very talented and could design for a variety of classic Hollywood stars, But for Alexis Smith and her model’s figure,
the styles of the late 1940s were perfect for her. She, like a few others, could wear white or black or bright colored outfits very well. Thanks for recommending San Antonio.
Thank you, so much, for this enlightening article on a talented, and seemingly modest part of that golden age of the “Silver Screen,” Mr. Milo Anderson. I was just catching the classic, John Garfield, Warner Bros. noir flick, “No Body Lives For Ever” (on the FREE! Movies channel, here in Hollywood) Like so many Anderson designs, the gowns could be worn today!
I’m glad you enjoyed my post on Milo Anderson. He designed greaat costumes for many movies and it is nice that you appreciate his work.
Just watched Dodge City. I think this was Milo’s work also. The clothes Olivia de Havilland wore in it was the best part of the movie. Stunning.
Yes Steve, Milo did the costumes for Dodge City also. Errol Flynn really liked his costume designs.
Hey have you ever heard of Milo Anderson doing a commercial line or a moonlighting gig as a freelance commercial designer? Doing some research on that and looking for any insight!
Hi. Milo Anderson passed away several years ago so no I haven’t, nor from his estate.
Olivia’s clothes in Robin Hood are so very beautiful. I love to watch the movie mainly to admire the design of her clothes. Always thought the designer was a genius and finely I’ve looked up his name. Now to find out he designed so many other clothes I’ve loved – I’m just blown away! Thank you for putting this information together. Along with you, I truly honor his talent.
Hi Helen, I’m gratified that you found my post on Milo Anderson and found it informative. It’s difficult to find information about some of these lesser known designers.
Thanks for your comments.
I had the good fortune to rent a room from Dotty Harmony in Malibu, back in 1980, and she often talked about Milo. The two were very good friends. I only wish I had had the opportunity to meet him after discovering what a true genius he was in costuming. I can thank this web site for hipping me to his beautiful creations, especially the gown he did for Ida Lupino.
Thank you for sharing this story Ray. Yes, it would have been great to meet hi. We all look back on those opportunities lost.
One of my favorite costume was Joan Crawford’s Stone Martin stroller, she wore in the last scene in Mildred Pierce.
My favorite movie is The Adventures of Robin Hood with its Magnificent cast, brilliant musically score and of course those brilliant costumes. I can watch it over and over again and I noticed Dame Olivias dress changes with each scene shes in. Each dress is pure perfection and she looks absolutely gorgeous in each gown. And Errol Flynn…you can dress that man in rags … he was gorgeous from head to toe.
Thanks for your comment Vivian, It is a great costume film and thank you for pointing out which costumes you like.
I just finished watching “Romance on the High Seas” with Doris Day and Janis Page wearing some very beautiful gowns and suits. I quickly looked to the credits to see who designed them and was surprised to see Milo Anderson, a name that was unfamiliar to me. Well no longer. I will add him to my list of favorites movie costumers. I certainly appreciate the information written above about him as I could find very little else about his career and life.
I’m glad you found my blog post about Milo Anderson. He is not well known and does not get the credit he deserves for his talent, something he shares several other costume designers. Thanks for your comments.
Thank you for the elegant article on a great and modest talent. I was just watching 42nd Street last night, WOW ! Milo Anderson was just 24 when he designed these iconic costumes. Love the BIG buttons down the side of the skirts. Those pre-code gals in the human fountain scene are delicious! Hooray for Hollywood!
Thanks for your comment Peter. Milo was not well known as pointed out but he did contribute to so many movies and he designed such significant costumes. As you you say, those 42nd Street chorines were a knock-out.
I agree. Had to look him up after seeing Romance on the High Seas. Loved the designs “Mrs Kent” wore.
Thanks for your comment. Romance on the High Seas was such a fun movie and Milo Anderson did a great job with the costume design. This added so much to
the plot and characterization. And Janis Paige makes such a great model.