Tuesday, November 30, 2010


A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to talk with the costume designer for American Graffiti, Aggie Rodgers. Graffiti was her first job as a costume designer.  Several years later she again worked with George Lucas on "The Return of the Jedi." She has pared up with many famous directors including Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation, The Rainmaker, Jack), Chris Columbus (Rent), Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and John Korty (A Farewell To Manzanar). She has lived in the Bay Area her entire adult life, and travels to places all over the world for her job where she has worked with legends such as Milos Foreman (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), Ron Howard (Cocoon), Tim Burton (Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice), Norman Jewison (In Country, The Hurricane) and an Academy Award Nominated collaboration with Steven Spielberg (The Color Purple).  Aggie has been a part of many films, too numerous to mention here, but you can check it out for yourself on the link below.  Despite her vast array of  experience I only asked her about American Graffiti. She was very charming and never once did she seem irritated by my incessant questions and narrow focus of only Graffiti related topics. 


Q: How did you get the job as a costume designer for American Graffiti?

AR: I had a masters in costume design for theater from Cal State Long Beach and was interested in working in films.  I got an interview with the production manager James Hogan, through the union.  I remember him asking me what I knew about, “dragging the main.”  That’s what we called cruisin’ back then.  I told him I was very familiar with it [laughs].

Q: You were about 19-years-old in 1962.  Where did you drag the main?

AR: I grew up in Fresno, CA. I graduated from high school in 1962-same as George [Lucas]. I use to cruise with my sister in her  ’54 Ford that was painted cherry/ blue. 

Q: Do you remember which streets?

AR: Yes, Shields Avenue and Blackstone.  There was a public pool and a drive-in called Stan’s where everybody hung out. [Editor’s note:  Simialr to Mels Drive-in, from the late 1940s through the 1960s, Stan’s Drive-in and coffee shop was a popular California chain, owned by entrepreneur Stan Burke.  There was once 9 Stan's Drive-ins or roadside eateries in Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento and Los Angeles].

Q:  How did you prepare for the film?

AR:  I read the script several times, spoke to actors, got their sizes, and then went shopping.  I went to every Goodwill store I could find.  I even had my mom in Fresno shop the Goodwill stores for me. Almost all the clothes the kids wear at the sock hop were bought at local Goodwill stores. Nowadays, they have all these vintage clothing stores but back then you could find just about anything there.

Q:  Were you paid a flat fee?

AR:  No I was paid and hourly rate.  I know there wasn’t a lot of money in the budget but everyone was happy with what they were paid.  I remember we worked out of one small motor home that was used for make-up, wardrobe, and hair.

Q:  In the film, what kind of shirt is Richard Dreyfuss’ character, Curt wearing?

AR:  That is a madras plaid sport shirt.  I bought two of those at Brooks Brothers.  In the early seventies men’s shirt collars were really large so I cut the collars on the shirts to match the early-sixties time period.  His pants are khakis from J.C. Pennys.

Q:  Charlie Martin-Smith's character, Terry wears an interesting bowling shirt.

AR:  That’s not a bowling shirt.  It’s something I designed.  I showed George [Lucas] that style of shirt with different fabric.  It had a specific neckline and two buttons.  I designed it, he chose the colors.

Q: It’s a great look and fits his character perfectly.  You should market that shirt.  So many fans would buy it.

AR:  Thank you.  I'll leave it to someone else to make the shirt and sell it [laughs].  I also remember his shoes were too big.  We couldn’t find white bucks that fit him properly.

Q: What can you tell me about Ron Howard’s clothes?

AR:  His pants are from J. C. Pennys.  His pale blue and white shirt we had made.  I gave the fabric to a professional seamstress and told her what to make.

Q:  Cindy William’s character Laurie, wears a blue blouse, plaid skirt and a letterman’s sweater.

AR:  Yes.  The letterman’s sweater she’s wearing is actually from George Lucas’ high school in Modesto.  Before shooting, he phoned his dad and asked him to get the sweater from one of George’s high school buddies.  When we got the sweater we sewed a new patch on it.

Q:  Did you design the dress worn by Candy Clark (Debbie)?

AR:  That was a Lanz dress I bought at the Goodwill, where we also purchased the white Caprice shoes that she's wearing in the film. I also remember we only had one bow for her hair so we had to make that last through the entire shoot.

Candy sporting a Lanz dress purchased at The Goodwill Store

Q: Are those typical car club jackets worn by the Pharaohs gang?

AR:  Yes.  We had those made.  They were popular back then.  I think a local sport shop made them, I’m not sure.

Q: Even though Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids is a band that plays ‘50s music they normally didn’t dress the way they were in the film, did they?

AR:  No.  They normally dressed like hoods or greasers.  George wanted them to be more straight-laced so we put them in red jackets. We borrowed those from some other local band. I don’t remember their name. 


Q: The first time I saw American Graffiti I had to laugh at the cop, Holstein wearing a little bow tie with his uniform. Did they really used to dress like that?

AG:  Oh yea, the cop.  Yea, that is what they wore.

Q:  The carhops at Mel’s normally didn’t look quite as seductive as they do in the film.  Did you come up with their new look?

AR: No, that was George.  He was very specific about what he wanted.  Although many drive-ins had carhops with roller skates Mel’s never did, to my knowledge.  But for the film they wore roller-skates.  It was also George’s idea for the carhops to wear a bellboy cap.  They also wore those tight ski pants.  Which was very practical since San Francisco can be cold at night.  Incidentally, one of the carhop extras in the film wound up being my assistant later.  Her name is Judy Feil.  

Q: I love those little caps the carhops wear.  Did you make those?

AR:  Oh yea the caps were specially made by a man that ran the ACT [American Conservatory Theater] costume shop named Walter Watson.

Q:  One final question, Mackenzie Phillips, who played Carol, wears a surfboard T-shirt in the film.  Did you buy that at Goodwill?

AG:  The Dewey Weber shirt was ordered from Dewey Weber down in Southern California and it was a request from George.  He makes great surf boards. They originally printed on the back but she was to sit in the car all the time and so we had them printed on the front for the movie.

Q: Sounds like it was a lot of fun working on the film

AR: Everyone was great to work with: The cast, crew, everybody. It was a lot of fun.

~ FIN ~
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