Lights, Camera, Costumes! Lancaster Native Comes Full Circle With “Designing Woman” Exhibit

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Randall Thropp has come full circle. The Paramount Pictures costume archivist grew up in Lancaster and attended Ohio University Lancaster from 1974-1976.

This summer he brought the exhibit Designing Woman: Edith Head at Paramount 1924–1967 to his hometown, currently on display at the Decorative Arts Center through Aug. 24.

“While I was in high school, I took summer classes with then-OUL Theatre Director Jeff Wagner,” said Thropp. “I knew I wanted to be involved in a theater department somewhere when I went to college, and Jeff Wagner encouraged me to start at OUL.”

Wagner was director of the theatre from 1969 to 1998 and passed away a short time later. Thropp said Wagner helped him to get very involved with OUL Theatre as a student. Thropp used the time at OUL to fine tune his craft and save money to attend a theatre school in New York.

“The first play I did at OUL was The Fantasticks,” said Thropp. “I also did The Girls in 509, Everything in the Garden, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I also directed a couple of pieces at OUL and worked with the Lancaster Arts and Civic Club.”

Thropp eventually left OUL and went to Circle in the Square, a theatre school in New York City affiliated with NYU. After college his career took him in many directions. In 1987, he was asked to join the company of Tony and Tina’s Wedding. Thropp was one of the original collaborators and created the environments and sets for the play. 

That project eventually took him to Los Angeles where he started working in television.

“In 1990, I worked on The Great Los Angeles Earthquake. It was a television mini-series where many of the victims were buried under rubble. It was during this project that I started to really learn costuming,” said Thropp. “My first job was bloodying up extras and working with the special effects people. I got a reputation for being the blood guy.”

Randall Thropp recoils in mock fear from the power of the AllSpark as set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg takes it from the glass case. The AllSpark was used as a prop in Transformers; it may have another life in an upcoming sequel. (photo: David Gilkey/NPR)

Thropp worked on HBO's Tales from the Crypt for five years as a costume supervisor. He also worked on the remake of The Shining for ABC. 

Thropp eventually went back to New York, but California came calling again in 2003 when he was asked to take a position in the Paramount Costume Department. In 2007, he became the costume archivist at Paramount Pictures. That role put him in charge of the Edith Head collection and led to him bringing the exhibit back home to Lancaster.

Head is one of the most recognizable names in film fashion history. During her 60-year career, she worked on more than 1,000 films, garnered 35 Academy Award nominations and won eight. Head designed many of the iconic costumes worn by Barbara Stanwyck, Loretta Young, Veronica Lake, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. The exhibit opened June 7.

Thropp will be in Lancaster in mid-August to discuss Head’s remarkable career and the Paramount costume archive, which houses more than 20,000 costume pieces and 12,000 pieces of jewelry.

An Edith Head Film Festival will be held at OUL in the Wagner Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 16. The Lady Eve will be shown at 2 p.m. and To Catch a Thief will be shown at 4 p.m. Thropp will attend the event along with actress, Susan Claassen, who will be appearing as Edith Head.

“I am really happy that the OUL Theatre program is growing and doing well,” said Thropp. “I still practice things that I learned from Jeff Wagner while I was part of the OUL Theatre. For five or six years, I did children’s theatre in Los Angeles, and everything Jeff ever taught me I put to use.”