Jack Edwards

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Theater career spanned 50 years

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 4, 2013 - 10:10 PM

Costume designer Jack Edwards said his greatest joy came when an actor would don one of his creations, look in a mirror and say, "Ahh, now I know how to play this role."

Edwards' design philosophy was driven by a costume's purpose. No matter how extravagant or luxurious a piece was -- and they were when Edwards made them -- he wanted to know how the piece was intended to be used, what message was intended and how it would function.

"There are designers who design from ego, but Jack was a designer who loved actors and theater, and the costume had to function to fulfill the purpose it was designed for," said Lyle Jackson, a partner in the design firm of Tulle & Dye, who built many of Edwards' designs.

Those tenets informed a career that spanned more than 50 years and took Edwards to Broadway, Hollywood, the Santa Fe Opera and the Guthrie Theater.

Edwards, who lived in a cottage on Lake Minnetonka, died last month at Walker Methodist Health Center in Minneapolis. He was 78.

After leaving the Guthrie, Edwards designed spectacular costumes for pianist Lorie Line's holiday tours and for a show by Prince. He also, along with set designer Jack Barkla, designed the holiday exhibits for the eighth-floor auditorium at Dayton's (later Marshall Field's) for a dozen years. He and Barkla also designed the 1992 Super Bowl halftime and pregame shows at the Metrodome, the Holidazzle parade and many other projects.

"If you wanted it to sparkle, you called Jack; if you wanted it over-the-top, you called Jack," said Line, who lived near Edwards and worked with him for 15 years. "He always surprised me with his use of color and texture. He was one-of-a-kind."

His life's work was honored with a 2012 exhibition at the Goldstein Museum of Design in St. Paul.

Broadway and Hollywood

A native of Easton, Pa., Edwards moved to New York in 1954, after college, and soon found work with private clients, department stores and Broadway shops. For 17 years, he worked with designers ranging from Jane Greenwood to Cecil Beaton to Coco Chanel. He was design assistant for "Coco," the Broadway musical starring Katharine Hepburn.

"She could be a real pill," Edwards said of Hepburn in a 2012 Star Tribune article. "I made her something in lavender and she said she couldn't wear it because the color lavender itched."

Edwards moved to Hollywood and worked with Ray Agahayn and Bob Mackie on "The Carol Burnett Show" and "The Jim Nabors Hour." He then was the costume designer at the Guthrie from 1971 to 1989.

"I have never, before or since, seen a costume shop like the one that Jack Edwards put together and ran at the Guthrie," said Peg Guilfoyle, a stage manager and production head at the Guthrie.

Edwards designed dozens of shows (including "The Misanthrope" and "Great Expectations") and worked with artistic directors from Michael Langham to Garland Wright. He helped inaugurate "A Christmas Carol," which playwright Barbara Field had adapted.

Santa Claus

"All the stories I have about Jack are probably not appropriate for the paper," Field said fondly. "He looked like Santa Claus and was not a shy, timid man. He was stubborn in a good sense and very exuberant."

"He was a very courageous man and he believed in living his life to the fullest," said Barkla. "His design work was like that, too. He knew everything technically about the construction of clothing and had extraordinary taste."

Barkla recalled that he and Edwards worked on an event at the Black Forest Inn, at which a minister remarked about the beauty of vests Edwards had designed.

"He told Jack, 'It just amazes me, these look so beautiful close up. I thought in theater, things only looked great from a distance but not so good when you get close up,'" Barkla recalled. "And Jack said to him, 'I've always thought the same thing about religion.'"

Edwards is survived by an aunt and cousins. A memorial party is planned for next spring.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

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