Thursday, December 1, 2016

Remembrance: Leslie Wright Hall 1925-2016 [December 1, 2016] All Saints, Pasadena


For much of her adult life, my mother Leslie Hall was best known as the wife (then ex-wife) of Huntz Hall, my father. Happily, for about 30 years (the 1960s through the 1980s) she was well-known in her own right as the Motion Picture Costumer responsible for three iconic television “looks”:  Elizabeth Montgomery in “Bewitched”, Barbara Feldon in “Get Smart”, and Mary Tyler Moore in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. They didn’t give Emmys in those days as they do now for costuming, but she would likely have taken home several during her long run as the commonly acknowledged best in the business in her time. At one point she had several shows going at once:  in addition to Mary’s show she also supervised “Rhoda”, “Phyllis”, and “The Bob Newhart Show”. When all those folded she went on to do “Lou Grant” and then the second “Newhart” show, after which she called it quits. The look she developed for Mary Tyler Moore had a major impact on working women’s fashion in the 1970s.

Leslie Hall was born in 1925 in Chicago. After high school she worked as a model and was first runner-up for “Miss Chicago” of 1946, losing (ironically) to Cloris Leachman with whom she later worked for so many years. In the same year she came out west to Los Angeles and became an Earl Carroll showgirl, and it was during those years that she met and married my father. They moved from Hollywood to Toluca Lake in the early fifties after my birth and divorced in 1953. A couple of years later, my mother decided to go back to work.

She originally wanted to be a set designer, and got a job at CBS Television City as a “set decorator”, working on an eclectic range of shows: “Playhouse 90”, “Art Linkletter’s House Party”, “Climax”, “The Bob Crosby Show”, and others. 1950s Hollywood sexism asserted itself, and it became clear to her that she would probably never graduate from prop shopper to set designer, so in the late 1950s she switched over to costuming, where her aesthetic and organizational abilities were more quickly recognized. At Warner Brothers she worked on all the television shows which dominated prime time in the late ‘50s: “77 Sunset Strip”, “Hawaiian Eye”, “Surfside Six”, “The Roaring Twenties”, “Maverick”, “Laramie”, and the rest. As a chubby, unpopular sixth grader I basked in her reflected glory when Troy Donahue showed up once with her at my school to pick me up at the end of the day. The twelve-year-old girls at Beverly Vista School couldn’t believe that someone like me could have a connection with such a dreamboat. My reputation soared for nearly a week, then settled back to its customary level.

Leslie Hall married three times: to Huntz Hall, my father, to Ben Kadish, a producer, and to Myron Healey, a character actor. After the third marriage ended in divorce she made the wise decision that marriage was not for her.  That was good news for me. In my teen years I tended to get along better with her boyfriends than I had with her husbands.

The final 20 or so years of my mother’s life were not happy ones. After retirement she became somewhat reclusive and phobic, with dementia and physical incapacity finally taking over her mind and body. For the final ten years of her life she lived at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills where she received wonderful care.

As you can tell, I am fiercely proud of my mother. She overcame a horrendous childhood in Chicago: her parents were a pair of Jazz Age Scott and Zelda wannabes who failed every parenting test imaginable. After high school she wanted to go to college, but her father forbade it. So she moved out west instead. Perhaps her greatest achievement in my mind was her challenge to the structure of the Motion Picture Costumers’ union: when she began work in costuming, men’s cards were numbered 1, 2, and 3; women’s were 4, 5, and 6. The highest card a woman could hold was 4.  Leslie Hall challenged that system and won. She became the first woman costumer to hold a number 1 card. Her perseverance meant that women and men—at least in this one area of below-the-line Hollywood work would have pay equity in the years ahead.

You don’t survive a childhood like my mother’s without some scars. Let’s just say that as a parent she could be complicated. But she gave me exponentially better parenting than she received, and my friends always marveled at how cool and funny my mother was and how better we got along with each other than they did with their parents. At my school open houses a couple of teachers actually accused me of trying to pull something over on them by bringing my sister instead of my mother. She was enormously devoted to me, and she loved Kathy and Oliver and my first wife Michelle too. Dementia really took her away over a decade ago, so much of our grieving has been done along the way. As saddened as I am by her passing, I am even more grateful for her generosity and her courage as a single parent in a time when raising an equally complicated kid didn’t come with a lot of social support. I hope someday she will get her due in the history of television fashion. And I trust that she now knows the depth of a divine love which she longed for all her remarkable life.

6 comments:

Catherine Babcock said...

Sympathy, empathy and blessing are sent to you and your family. Your mama would be proud of your words. xo Catherine Babcock

Kitty Hall said...

Gary, this is a wonderful tribute to your mother who I always enjoyed talking to when she came to All Saints. She was very pleased that
I had a daughter named Leslie Hall and usually asked about her. It delights me that we are friends on Facebook so that I can see your
Thoughtful and witty commentary on life. Best to Kathy. Kitty Hall



Neutron said...

Great tribute, she had a full wonderful life and I am sure she was proud of you.

Anonymous said...

Lovely tribute to your mother, Gary. So sorry for your loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this time of transition. Blessings to you, David and Barbara Mark

Bill Hardwick said...

So sorry for your oss, Gary. What a great tribute.

mary schnittger said...

Gary so sorry to hear of your Moms passing. what a wonderful tribute to her,love to you and your family. Your cousin Mary Grace
.