Ret Turner, Famed Wardrobe and Costume Designer, Dies at 87

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Ret Turner

The five-time Emmy Award winner worked with Bob Mackie and such glamorous stars as Cher, Dinah Shore, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross and Mitzi Gaynor.

Ret Turner, the legendary wardrobe and costume designer who won five Emmy Awards and dressed such glamorous stars as Cher, Dinah Shore, Dolly Parton and Diana Ross, has died. He was 87.

Turner, who worked often with Bob Mackie and headed NBC Studios’ wardrobe department for 20 years, died Tuesday night at his home in West Hollywood, his close friend Dan Wolf told The Hollywood Reporter.

Turner collected 23 Emmy nominations in all, winning for his work on musical specials starring Ross and Mitzi Gaynor, for series (Mama's Family and Carol Burnett's Carol & Company) and for a star-studded event show that celebrated Las Vegas' 75th anniversary.

Turner also did wardrobe for several Emmy and Academy Awards telecasts (he dressed host Billy Crystal) as well as for the Kennedy Center's 25th anniversary show in 1996. He most recently worked on the SAG Awards show in January.

Turner, whose own signature look was wearing all-black with a red tassel at the neck, partnered with Mackie and another costume design legend, the late Ray Aghayan, for Elizabeth Courtney Costumes, a design and costume rental company in Studio City.

"Going to Elizabeth Courtney is like going to Disneyland," Lily Tomlin once said. "Anything you want, anything you want to be, you can be. It's all there for you."

The business was known as Ret Turner Costume Rentals until its closure a few months ago.

Born Walter Raymond Turner in Marianna, Fla., he made his mark collaborating with Mackie in the 1970s on CBS' The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and the couple's follow-up, The Sonny and Cher Show.

He also dressed Donny & Marie Osmond, Andy Williams, Parton, Edie Adams, Bing Crosby, Bea Arthur and Ann Jillian for television shows or specials and worked on the pilot for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.

"It was all so spectacular," Turner, talking about working on variety shows back in the day, said in a 2003 interview with the Archive of American Television. "We were given a format, and we did a lot of clothes, and those dancers changed outfits sometimes eight times during a four-minute musical number, and they were all incredible looking. The costumes added an interesting element to the show. People now feel they get in the way of the show, and I can understand that. That's why they don't do them anymore."  

Turner, who was the oldest active member of the Costume Designers Guild, came to Hollywood in 1950 looking to become an actor. When he realized that wasn't going to happen, he got a job in the wardrobe department at NBC and assisted on shows hosted by Spike Jones and Dinah Shore. He later appeared as one of The Flying Silverman Brothers in a recurring comic sketch on The Andy Williams Show.

He also worked on the opening of Disneyland in 1955, Disney World in 1971 and EPCOT in 1982.

Turner went to Cher's home and dressed her in her famous (infamous?) black feather gown and headdress that she wore when she presented Don Ameche of Cocoon with his best supporting actor Oscar in 1985. (Mackie designed the outfit.)

"She used to have trick phrases that she would give to Bob, like [let's do] Road Warrior meets Tammy, she would throw things like that out there," Turner said in the TV Archive interview. "Whatever it was, she certainly created quite a stir, right, wrong or indifferent."

Survivors include a niece, Jean, and a cousin, Randy.

A funeral service will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.

Kim Masters contributed to this report.

Updated at 1:20 p.m. on May 4 to correct Turner's age.