In Memory

William 'Bill Thomas' Petersen - Class Of 1938

William 'Bill Thomas' Petersen

Bill Thomas, an Academy Award-winning costume designer with more than 300 films to his credit, died May 30, 2000, at his home in Beverly Hills, California.  He was 79.

Mr. Thomas shared an Oscar for costume design on the film "Spartacus," released in 1960.  Mr. Thomas was responsible for Jean Simmons' wardrobe.  But he was a versatile designer who was nominated 10 times for Academy Awards for best costume design.  He created the clown costume for July Garland in "The Pirate" in 1948, dressed Lana Turner in haute couture style for "By Love Possessed" in 1961 and created the garments of the future for "Logan's Run" in 1976.  Robert Redford wore his contemporary clothing in "Inside Daisy Clover" in 1965, as did Bill Cosby and Elliott Gould in "The Devil and Max Devlin" in 1981.

Stars enjoyed working with Mr. Thomas.  This comfort extended off the screen; he created dresses for the private wardrobes of stars such as Helen Reddy and Kim Novak.

Mr. Thomas was born William Thomas Petersen in Chicago and raised in San Marino.  He first became interested in design as a child, said his cousin Beverly Hudlow Nairne (SPHS '42).  "His father worked for a printing company, so there was always different kinds of paper around the house, different colors and very pretty," she said.  "Billy would design dresses for my paper dolls."

He majored in drama at the University of Southern California and studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.  He was a supply sergeant in the Army Air Forces during World War II and designed costumes for USO shows.  After the war he worked at Western Costume, which provided movie wardrobes, before becoming an apprentice to Irene, the MGM costume designer, and to Walter Plunkett, who specialized in historical design and created the wardrobe for "Gone With the Wind."  In this period Mr. Thomas dropped "Petersen" from his name and became known professionally as Bill Thomas.  He leaves no known immediate family members.

In a 1968 interview, Mr. Thomas offered some fashion advice:  "Too many women allow their clothing to wear them.  Fashion should only compliment the woman.  The greatest compliment a woman can receive is, 'How nice you look' not 'What a terrific hat.' "

The New York Times, June 9, 2000