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People who died in 2011

Lesser-known but significant figures

Photo: Illustrations by Ben Claassen, License: N/A

Illustrations by Ben Claassen


A self-taught designer who learned to make clothes by using patterns from Vogue, Van Runkle went on to clothe some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Her work can be seen in films ranging from Steve Martin’s The Jerk – remember that sorry-ass bathrobe? – to Peggy Sue Got Married, with the memorable silver dress that Kathleen Turner’s character wore to her high school reunion. She brought the fringe, the lingerie straps and the sequins to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and the hilarious, over-the-top Rodeo Drive outfits – quite possibly the best thing about the movie – to 1989’s Troop Beverly Hills.

Van Runkle was, it appears, a fighter, willing to stand up to big-name directors for what she believed. While working on The Godfather: Part II, she decided to dress a 1958 Cosa Nostra family party at Lake Tahoe almost entirely in mohair suits. Francis Ford Coppola was not pleased; he wanted tuxedos. But Van Runkle argued that the Corleone family was trying to blend in and appear WASP-y, thus forgoing tuxedos. Coppola eventually gave in, and Van Runkle was nominated for yet another Oscar. She died on Nov. 4 from lung cancer at the age of 83. – Andrea Appleton

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