On June 6th, 2012 in Woodlands Hills, California, Nolan passed away from cancer complications. He was 79 years old.
If you don’t recognize his name, you will recognize the names of the television shows in which he designed the glamorous gowns, suits, hats and veils, such as for “Charlie’s Angels,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and even the Morticia dress worn on “The Addams Family.
But that’s just the start. He did the women’s clothing designs for “The Love Boat,” “Green Acres,” “Fantasy Island,” and “Hart to Hart,” to name a few more shows. He created Elizabeth Taylor’s gowns in her “Passion” perfume commercials and did the costume design for at least 40 movies.
But Nolan was best known for his “Dynasty” dresses and the rest of the ensemble for actresses such as Diahann Carroll, Joan Collins and Linda Evans, designs which captured the imagination of women all over the world, and set many of the 1980’s styling trends.
For Nolan, this was all a Hollywood dream come true. Born the fourth of five children on January 8th, 1933 in Burkburnett, Texas during the Great Depression, when jobs and money were scarce, his father worked in the oil fields and was a carpenter and his mother picked cotton.
The family eventually relocated to San Bernardino, California in search of a better life.
To escape his hard childhood, Nolan would go to the movies and see glamorous actresses such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck. By the time he was 11 years old, he had decided he would one day dress them in clothes he would design, and many years later, he did.
After his high school graduation, Nolan enrolled at what is today California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he graduated in the 1950’s.
But then Nolan got a bad break, or so it seemed. He couldn’t find steady work in his field, so he got a job at a Beverly Hills florist shop to pay his bills. It was there however he met Joan Crawford for whom he would design gowns for the next 20 years, and he also met a struggling young writer named Aaron Spelling.
Spelling would later become one of Hollywood’s most successful producers and writers, creating many shows in which he hired Nolan to dress the ladies, shows such as “Dynasty,” and many of the other shows referenced in this piece.
At the age of just 24 in 1957, having made his contacts and saved his money, Nolan started his own design studio, and he would become one of Hollywood’s most successful designers until his retirement in 2007, 50 years after going into business for himself.
In his personal life, Nolan met his future wife, when he was hired by a Matilda Gray Stream, a New Orleans socialite to design a wedding dress for her daughter Sandra’s wedding.
About 10 years later, after Sandra’s marriage had ended in divorce, Nolan married Sandra. They were married from 1980 – 1993 but their 13 year marriage ended in divorce as well. There were no children.
However, Nolan is survived by millions of fans of the many movies and television shows in which he created glamorous outfits and by the vast number of people who bought his costume jewelry, sold on QVC until 2011.
Nolan was so talented, that before actress Susan Hayward passed away (1917 – 1975), she insisted on being buried in her favorite gown, a gown Nolan created.
“She told me that when she got to heaven, said Nolan to the Los Angeles Times, “She wanted to look like a star.” In part thanks to Nolan, she did.