By Andrew Valente

SOME professions are so popular that it's almost impossible to get into them even when you have the right qualifications. Many students just never manage to find the job they had always dreamed of. Long-time Majorca resident Sally Long was luckier than most: she went where she wanted to go and managed to work with some of the top names on London's West End stage, in British and American movies and also on BBC television. How did Sally manage it? Mainly by making hats for stars such as Leslie Caron, Katherine Hepburn, Plácido Domingo, Vivien Leigh and many other illustrious actors. Yet Sally didn't actually plan it that way - she was more or less pushed into theatrical millinery. But by specialising in hats she became the tops in that field, the person directors and producers turned to when they needed something special. Sally was born in Kingston-on-Thames but spent five years of her childhood in South Africa. But after the end of World War Two, her family returned to England and lived in Watlington, near Oxford. She studied art in Oxford and then got a job as an apprentice at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon. “It was a time when all the interesting people were there,” says Sally, “like Gielgud and Olivier and it was fascinating to work there. It was seasonal work so I was there on and off for six years. “They thought I wouldn't work very well making costumes, so I ended up making armour and jewellery. And then, because I had done a bit of millinery at art school, I took over making the hats. So I developed the millinery department at Stratford and ended up making all the hats.” Then Sally thought she'd like to work for herself, so she and a friend became freelance and did jobs for the Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Company in London, the Royal Court Theatre, the Old Vic and several other companies. It was at this stage, in the 60s, that she made a hat for Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo, who was appearing in Carmen at the Royal Opera House. “I was so worried about his hat, so concerned about it because it was very special. So when I finished it I put it carefully aside and then I went to the theatre without it. So I had to go to him and say 'I'm sorry, I've forgotten your hat and I've got to go home and collect it for you.*” Most theatregoers think that what they see on the stage is all there is to a production. But what goes on behind the scenes is just as important as what we see on stage. Indeed, the actors' part of a play cannot exist without a great deal of help from the production department. “Behind the scenes, the wardrobe, properties, scene painting, they're all as important for the production as the actors,” says Sally. “They produce a good back–up to give an actor a really good base to work from.” So before Plácido Domingo can wear that hat in Carmen, someone has to design it, the director and the singer accept the design, which then goes to the wardrobe department where the person in charge gives it to Sally to make. “My work,” explains Sally, “has mostly been interpretation of other people's ideas. And that's very important, because if you can't interpret what somebody wants then you're no good. You need to understand what other people want and what they have in mind.” Most people, says Sally, think that it's the designer who actually sits down and makes an object from his own designs, but that's seldom the case. “You need the interpreter to take the design and make it look like what the designer wants,” she adds. Sometimes a star will reject a hat or other garment at the design stage. On other occasions the star doesn't like the hat once she sees what it looks like. The latter was the case with Katherine Hepburn, who was appearing at the Old Vic in Taming of the Shrew. “I made her a very pretty little hat and she looked at it and said, ‘I'm not pretty like you, dear, I don't think I could ever wear that.* That was what had been designed for her and I made it, but she took one look at it and she said no.” The stars often contribute artistic and design ideas to a production. “When I worked on The Nutcracker Suite with Rudolph Nureyev,” recalls Sally, “he had this weird idea that in part of the dream with the little girl we could have giant baby dolls' heads, so I had to make them from designs made to Nureyev's specifications.” Although Sally's speciality was hats, she also did other work, such as Nureyev's giant dolls' heads. She was often asked to make masks, for instance, and “anything odd”. “I worked a lot on Dr Who,” recalls Sally, “for which I used to make weird costumes and things for Dr Who. That was very interesting because it was at the beginning of making remote animals and gadgets. Nowadays it's all done on computers. “I made the lion's head that Dr Who wore. It was made of papier mâché and fur and other things. It was in the Dr Who exhibition. I also made cybermen and all sorts of things that children used to be frightened of.” Many of the odd jobs that came Sally's way were for BBC television. “They used to have a children's programme called Crackerjack,” says Sally, “and they always had something weird on that and I'd either have to make a giant hat or a Belisha beacon, but lit up. At the BBC they always used to say, ‘If we don't have anyone who can make it up, phone Sally.*” One of these odd little jobs was a box for John Cleese. “For a Monty Python TV production I was told that John Cleese wanted to be a box, so I made him a box and he came on like a walking box. I can say that I was once picked up by John Cleese, because he picked me up literally, physically, in the studio.” Sally is highly versatile and nowadays she also designs and makes theatrical costumes. And even early in her career at Stratford she was making shirts for Richard Burton when he was appearing in Henry V. Sometimes the wardrobe department has the actors' measurements, but in Burton's case there weren't any and Sally had to measure him for his shirts. “At Stratford in those days, it was like a little community and everybody worked together. All the actors used to come over to the wardrobe and visit us and sit and talk. In the evening, at pub time, we'd all go to the Dirty Duck. It was a very nice atmosphere. I don't think it's the same now, it's more commercial.” A regular visitor to the wardrobe was Sir John Gielgud. “He was a most fascinating man, he was really delightful. He used to come over to the wardrobe and sit and talk to us and tell us stories. He was a wonderful raconteur. But unfortunately I can't remember any of the stories.” First nights in the theatre are also party nights for the actors and the production staff. “At the end of the play on the first night,” says Sally, “we always had nice parties in the wardrobe. At the Henry V party I got a big hug and a kiss from Richard Burton.” He obviously liked the shirts Sally had made for him. Sally also worked on a TV film of Peter Pan starring Danny Kaye and Mia Farrow (for which she made a crocodile), on Gigi (hats for Leslie Caron), on Zulu (the natives in Africa wanted to buy the head-dresses she had made), with Morecombe and Wise (“I made them into a couple of flowers”), with Marty Feldman (“he was not a very happy man”), on the film Cleopatra (head-dresses for Elizabeth Taylor), on Lloyd-Webber's Phantom of the Opera (costumes for mannequins), she was very involved in Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (hats and head-dresses) and she worked with Vivien Leigh (“she was quite a madam and was busy having an affair at the time”). When Sally started to visit Majorca in 1978 she soon met theatrical director Leona di Marco and worked with her, this time as a costume designer. When she designed costumes for Leona's plays she often made them up in England and then brought them back here on her next visit. “I found working in the theatre here very interesting,” says Sally, “partly because they rehearse for so much longer. A production in England may be four weeks' rehearsal and then you're on the road. Here the rehearsals seem to go on for months and months. That's partly because they're semi-professionals and have other things to do.” Sally is designing the costumes for Leona's new play, but apart from that she is very much in semi-retirement. “The last thing I did in London was a couple of big cat masks for the Lord Mayor's Show. It was for some commercial company. I made them here and took them back on the plane.” So Sally has come a long way since she left art school - and all because she realised early on that if you want to get ahead you should make a hat.

Comments

To be able to write a comment, you have to be registered and be logged in.

* Mandatory fields

Currently there are no comments.