Costume Designer Irene, 1900 - 1962Yes, once again I go into the darkness, this time to commemorate the life of renowned Hollywood costume designer Irene.  The date of November 15th has significance here, because it was the day that in 1962 Irene jumped out of a window at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles and fell to her death, a suicide victim at the age of 61.  An immense talent, and both a creative genius and a shrewd businesswoman, Irene had an incredibly fruitful career both in and out of the Hollywood spotlight, and her list of credits is astounding.

" /> Costume Designer Irene, 1900 - 1962Yes, once again I go into the darkness, this time to commemorate the life of renowned Hollywood costume designer Irene.  The date of November 15th has significance here, because it was the day that in 1962 Irene jumped out of a window at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles and fell to her death, a suicide victim at the age of 61.  An immense talent, and both a creative genius and a shrewd businesswoman, Irene had an incredibly fruitful career both in and out of the Hollywood spotlight, and her list of credits is astounding.

" /> Costume Designer Irene, 1900 - 1962Yes, once again I go into the darkness, this time to commemorate the life of renowned Hollywood costume designer Irene.  The date of November 15th has significance here, because it was the day that in 1962 Irene jumped out of a window at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles and fell to her death, a suicide victim at the age of 61.  An immense talent, and both a creative genius and a shrewd businesswoman, Irene had an incredibly fruitful career both in and out of the Hollywood spotlight, and her list of credits is astounding.

" />

The Sad End of Irene

Costume Designer Irene, 1900 - 1962Yes, once again I go into the darkness, this time to commemorate the life of renowned Hollywood costume designer Irene.  The date of November 15th has significance here, because it was the day that in 1962 Irene jumped out of a window at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles and fell to her death, a suicide victim at the age of 61.  An immense talent, and both a creative genius and a shrewd businesswoman, Irene had an incredibly fruitful career both in and out of the Hollywood spotlight, and her list of credits is astounding.

Born in Montana on December 8, 1900, Irene Lentz made her way to Los Angeles with aspirations of becoming an actress, and did manage to land a handful of minor roles in silent films beginning in 1921.  She married the director of her first movie role, but after his untimely death in 1930, Irene turned away from acting and fell back on one of her other well-developed skills.  An accomplished seamstress all her life with the added taste and panache necessary to move into dress designing, Irene opened a small dress shop in Los Angeles.  The success of her business brought an offer from the Irene's Designs for Dietrich & Colman in 1944's Kismetultra-swank Wilshire Blvd. Department store, recently moved into luxury Art Deco digs, to join them on staff as designer in their high-class, high price tag Ladies Custom Salon.  Movie stars and the wives of movie stars were her frequent customers, as well as well-heeled society ladies, all of whom fell in love with the classy gowns that were Irene’s specialty.

Putting clothes on the backs of movie people brought her to the attention of studio brass, leading to her first movie costume design job in 1933.  At this point Irene, as she billed herself, was freelancing for both independent producers and working at various studios, often working under other costume supervisors but brought specially in to design the gowns for the female stars such as Hedy Lamarr, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard and many more.  For ten years she worked all over Hollywood, amassing over forty major design credits, but after meeting and marrying writer Eliot Gibbons, brother of MGM art and production direction head Cedric Irene Put Lucy in Pink for Ziegfeld FolliesGibbons, she soon found herself at that studio, taking the place of the designer Adrian who left MGM to work for Universal.

The next ten years at MGM were busy andIrene's Women's Costumes for Meet Me in St. Louis prestigious for Irene, who worked as costume designer and costume supervisor on over one hundred and fifty films.  Her glamorous fashion imprint was found on prestigious dramas, Judy Garland musicals, raucous comedies, Esther Williams swim and song fests, and nearly every other movie that MGM released until the end of the 1940s.  She received an Academy Award nomination for her costumes for the 1948 Barbara Stanwyck drama B.F.’s Daughter.  It was the first year that Oscars were given in that category; actually two awards were given, for black and white and also for color movies, until 1957.  Undoubtedly Irene would have been honored many more times had the category existed earlier. 

Though she had incredible respect at MGM, she found the strain of working for Irene Dressed Ginger Rogers for Barkleys of Broadwayher somewhat autocratic and old-fashioned (though incredibly talented) brother-in-law Cedric Gibbons was wearing on her, and in 1950 she decided to leave MGM and dedicate herself to her own fashion studio which she had founded some years earlier.  She didn’t return to films until Irene Dressed Judy Garland for The Pirateshe responded to a plea from her old friend Doris Day to design her wardrobe for some movies she would be doing at Universal.  Irene acquiesced to her friend’s request and returned to Hollywood to create Day’s stylish ensembles for the thriller Midnight Lace (her second Oscar nomination) and the NY advertising world comedy Lover Come Back, the second of three Day made with Rock Hudson.  During 1962 she worked on the Rock Hudson aviation adventure A Gathering of Eagles.

At this time things began to turn sad in Irene’s life.  Doris Day noticed that her friend was unhappy and preoccupied, and she learned that Irene had been Irene Did Friend Doris Day's Lover Come Back despondent since the 1961 death of actor Gary Cooper.  Irene confessed to having been madly in love with Cooper and when he died she fell into a deep depression.  Come November 15, 1962, Irene checked into the Knickerbocker Hotel under an assumed name and began drinking heavily.  After writing several notes to friends, including caring references to her husband Eliot who recently had a stroke and apologies for what she was about to do, Irene (according to some accounts) tried to slit her wrists, unsuccessfully.  Failing that, at shortly after three in the afternoon, Irene opened her hotel room window on one of the highest floors and jumped out, landing on the lobby roof that jutted out from the hotel’s entrance. Irene's Look for Lana Turner in Postman...(Contrary to some reports, her body was discovered quickly and not days later.)

Irene left a legacy of imaginative costume design, creating looks that ranged from Lana Turner’s now-iconic white shorts set from The Postman Always Rings Twice, to opulent over-the-top creations for lavish MGM musical extravaganzas.  You will be astounded when you read over her list of credits, and we will always remember all the beauty and wonder that she helped bring to the movies.

12 Responses The Sad End of Irene
Posted By Joe aka Mongo : November 16, 2007 6:11 pm

Medusa, Indeed a sad story involving a very talented lady. No doubt that Gary Cooper was the love of her life (he probably wasn't even aware). It must have been difficult for her when Cooper carried on with Patricia Neal.In any event it is too bad that the Oscars weren't awarded to best costume design prior to 1948. No doudt that Miss Irene would have won a few for her meticulous work dressing the beauties of Hollywood.May she rest in peace.

Posted By Joe aka Mongo : November 16, 2007 6:11 pm

Medusa, Indeed a sad story involving a very talented lady. No doubt that Gary Cooper was the love of her life (he probably wasn't even aware). It must have been difficult for her when Cooper carried on with Patricia Neal.In any event it is too bad that the Oscars weren't awarded to best costume design prior to 1948. No doudt that Miss Irene would have won a few for her meticulous work dressing the beauties of Hollywood.May she rest in peace.

Posted By Medusa : November 17, 2007 8:45 am

Yes, unfortunate all around.I certainly hadn't realized that the costume Oscars were so late in being included.  She certainly would have swept many a competition.She's been gone over forty years, but her accomplishments live gloriously on, especially on the TCM schedule.Thanks for the comment!

Posted By Medusa : November 17, 2007 8:45 am

Yes, unfortunate all around.I certainly hadn't realized that the costume Oscars were so late in being included.  She certainly would have swept many a competition.She's been gone over forty years, but her accomplishments live gloriously on, especially on the TCM schedule.Thanks for the comment!

Posted By Karlyn : December 6, 2007 11:35 am

Thank you for this lovely piece on my grand-aunt Irene Lentz. Though I was born in '67 and never knew her personally, Irene doted over my mother and my sister (who was a toddler at the time) as she unfortunately never had any children of her own. I grew up hearing all the stories of the time, old Hollywood, the models, the shows and I have some of her personal items here at my home now as they've been handed down from my grandmother. Fans will be pleased to know that there are two books in the works about Irene. One if in the publishing stage now and the other is still bring written, so look for them between 2008-2010.  I'll probably post about it when the time comes as well on my main site @ http://www.karlyns.com Until then, thanks so much for speaking so fondly of Irene. She is still loved by so many. – Karlyn 

Posted By Karlyn : December 6, 2007 11:35 am

Thank you for this lovely piece on my grand-aunt Irene Lentz. Though I was born in '67 and never knew her personally, Irene doted over my mother and my sister (who was a toddler at the time) as she unfortunately never had any children of her own. I grew up hearing all the stories of the time, old Hollywood, the models, the shows and I have some of her personal items here at my home now as they've been handed down from my grandmother. Fans will be pleased to know that there are two books in the works about Irene. One if in the publishing stage now and the other is still bring written, so look for them between 2008-2010.  I'll probably post about it when the time comes as well on my main site @ http://www.karlyns.com Until then, thanks so much for speaking so fondly of Irene. She is still loved by so many. – Karlyn 

Posted By Mary : May 27, 2009 12:06 am

It is a true a picture says a thousand words – Recently I received a gift of 7 costume design sketches by Irene and each one them takes my breath away. Her designs are pure elegance, style and grace. She was and remains a gift we all can share. Thank you TCM for understanding the beauty of this art form and continuing your work – Mary

Posted By Mary : May 27, 2009 12:06 am

It is a true a picture says a thousand words – Recently I received a gift of 7 costume design sketches by Irene and each one them takes my breath away. Her designs are pure elegance, style and grace. She was and remains a gift we all can share. Thank you TCM for understanding the beauty of this art form and continuing your work – Mary

Posted By medusamorlock : May 27, 2009 12:16 pm

Here is the the URL of Karlyn, who commented above, and the wonderful new website she has started up to honor her great aunt Irene.

http://www.irene-lentz.com/

Posted By medusamorlock : May 27, 2009 12:16 pm

Here is the the URL of Karlyn, who commented above, and the wonderful new website she has started up to honor her great aunt Irene.

http://www.irene-lentz.com/

Posted By moirafinnie : May 27, 2009 1:24 pm

Thanks for adding this info, Medusa.

Since reading your fascinating article, I began to read as much as possible about the beautiful clothing made by Irene (much of which could easily be worn today), as well as other designers of her time. I hope that the book about the designer reportedly being worked on by a poster at the Irene site reaches publication someday soon.

Posted By moirafinnie : May 27, 2009 1:24 pm

Thanks for adding this info, Medusa.

Since reading your fascinating article, I began to read as much as possible about the beautiful clothing made by Irene (much of which could easily be worn today), as well as other designers of her time. I hope that the book about the designer reportedly being worked on by a poster at the Irene site reaches publication someday soon.

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