Former Costume Designer Discusses Experience Working With Lucy

A former costume designer who worked with Lucille Ball will always remember the comedic icon with a tear in his eye.

On Thursday, Ret Turner regaled a near-capacity lunch crowd at the Lucy-Desi Museum and Center for Comedy’s Tropicana Room with tales of his interactions with Ball, and some of the dresses he designed for her public appearances.

Turner arrived in Los Angeles in 1950 and is now the oldest living and working costume designer in Hollywood. Although he originally aspired to become an actor, he soon became aware that his true talents lay elsewhere. Due to his ability to sew, and his innate sense of fashion, Turner went on to work with a myriad of celebrities in the ensuing decades on TV shows such as: “The Jim Nabors Show,” “The Andy Williams Show,” “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” “The Donny and Marie Show” and “Mama’s Family.”

“I’ve worked with some of the best people in the world,” Turner said.

During his long and fruitful career as a costume designer, Turner has been nominated for 21 Emmy Awards. He has won five of them.

Currently in Jamestown for the week in celebration of the Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy, Turner was full of stories centered around his creations and personal experiences with many of these celebrities – not least of which was Ball herself.

Turner said his first encounter with Ball came when he was assigned to tie a bow in her hair in her dressing room prior to a television appearance. After the work was done, Turner said she asked him if he was sure that’s how he wanted it to look. When he responded with a resolute “yes,” she said that would be fine. He said he found out later that if he had shown any hesitation or uncertainty in the quality of his work during the encounter, he would likely never have worked with her again.

From there, he said, his collaboration with Ball blossomed into a partnership that would span decades.

“Lucy was a true star in every sense of the word,” he said, adding that her famous red hair proved to be no hindrance whatsoever to the colors he used in his costume designs for her.

In the Tropicana Room, Turner was situated between two dresses he designed specifically for Lucy, one of which she wore for what would be her final public appearance at the 61st Academy Awards in 1989 – only four weeks before her death.

He was joined onstage by Los Angeles-based writer and actress T. Faye Griffin, who oversaw a question-and-answer session with Turner. One of the more poignant questions asked of Turner was what advice he would give to anyone interested in entering show business as a costume designer.

“The first thing I would tell you is to get a good scholastic background,” Turner said. “And you have to be versatile. But, most importantly, don’t sit around waiting for a job. It doesn’t work that way. You have to go out and get the job before you can move up.”

The Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy continues today – with Tom Cotter and Kerri Louise headlining the evening with an 8 p.m. performance at Reg Lenna Center for the Arts – and will run through Sunday. For a complete schedule of festival events, as well as ticket information, visit www.lucycomedyfest.com.