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Long, William Ivey (b. ca 1947)  
 
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William Ivey Long is among the most prolific and respected of contemporary costume designers in America. His extensive list of credits includes an astounding fifty productions on Broadway and many more for other stages. He has also designed for films.

His brilliantly conceived and constructed costumes have earned him the admiration of actors and directors, and have brought him numerous honors, including Tony, Maharam, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards.

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Early Life and Education

"Theater was the family, the family passion," stated Long, who was born around 1947. It was also the family home for the first three years of Long's life: his parents were living in a dressing room at the Raleigh (North Carolina) Little Theater, where his father, William Ivey Long, Sr., was then working as a technical director, and his mother, Mary Wood Long, as an actor and costume designer.

Long's father later became a professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and founded the college's theater department. He was also a playwright. Long's mother had a career as a high school drama teacher.

Long's two younger siblings also pursued careers related to theater: his brother, Robert, is a theater architect, and his sister, Laura, works with a troupe founded by their mother that brings the mentally challenged into the theater.

It was inevitable that theater would figure in Long's life as a child. His first venture in costume design came when, as a small boy, he made an Elizabethan collar for his dog, a "black-and-white mutt" named Manteo. His theatrical career began at the age of eight, when he appeared in Paul Green's The Lost Colony, about the early settlement of North Carolina. As a teen, Long worked as a technical director and propmaster in regional theater.

Despite the family connection to theater and his own experience, Long planned to become a historian. He earned a bachelor's degree in history from the College of William and Mary in 1969. He credits his instructors there for teaching him how to conduct historical research, which he would later use to advantage in creating appropriate costumes for shows.

Long pursued graduate studies in art history at the University of North Carolina. While there, he met visiting professor Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, who recognized that Long had not found a calling as an art historian and suggested that he apply to the design program at the Yale School of Drama, where she had been a playwriting student.

Family Disappointment

Long was delighted to be accepted at Yale, but his parents saw his decision to pursue a different career as "quitting." "They were very disappointed in me," he said.

Long stated in a 2006 interview, "I'm guilty because I haven't made everyone happy and everything perfect," but admitted the impossibility of that in view of his home situation. He compared himself to Tennessee Williams, saying, "I feel like I'm related to him. Southern. Dysfunctional family."

Of his parents' reaction to his being gay, he stated that "it was never mentioned." Neither, apparently, was it accepted, since he went on to note that his mother on her deathbed in 1998 had said, "I still hope you find some nice girl and settle down and have children." He further commented, sardonically, "Not that this seared itself into my soul or anything."

Despite the chilly reception of his parents to his acknowledgment of his homosexuality, Long has always been open with his friends and equally candid with the people he encountered in his professional life.

Yale and New York

At Yale Long studied set design under Ming Cho Lee, whom he called "my great teacher" because he was a person who "sparked all the thinking, all the questioning, all the doubting" necessary to succeed as a creative artist.

During his years at Yale, Long befriended a number of other students who would also go on to highly successful careers in the arts. His housemates included Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. He became close to playwrights Wendy Wasserstein, Chris Durang, Albert Innaurato, and Paul Rudnick.

After his graduation in 1975 Long moved to New York City and into the Chelsea Hotel, which was home to couturier Charles James, whom Long described as "a living master." "For three intense years" Long worked as an unpaid apprentice to James, from whom he learned that "clothing is architectural . . . it's construction, just different construction methods."

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Costumes designed by William Ivey Long for a 2008 production of Paul Green's The Lost Colony. Photograph by Walter Gresham.
  
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