Zipprodt, Patricia, 1925-1999

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Patricia Zipprodt won three Tony Awards (she was nominated for eleven) as a Costume Designer for her work on Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Cabaret (1966), and Sweet Charity (1987). She is remembered for her technique of painting fabrics, her extraordinarily thorough research, her exuberant personality and her most famous productions: Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Cabaret (1966), Zorba (1968), Chicago (1975), Sweet Charity (1987), and the film The Graduate (1967).

Zipprodt was born on February 24, 1925 and raised in suburban Illinois. As a child, she used to draw paper dolls and costumes for them. Though she had always been interested in art, attending classes at the Art Institute of Chicago throughout her childhood and adolescence, she studied Sociology at Wellesley. After graduation she soon moved to New York City to live the bohemian lifestyle. She wore black turtlenecks and studied painting at the New School University, but it was a trip to the ballet that pointed her towards her destiny as a designer. The ballet was Ballanchine’s La Valse and Zipprodt was enraptured by the layers of silk, net, and beads that Barbara Karinska had draped on the dancers. In her own career Zipprodt would often design for ballets, operas, and musicals.

Zipprodt won a design scholarship to the Fashion Institute of Technology (1951-1953) and an internship with Charles James. Both contributed to Zipprodt’s talents as a cutter, draper and sewer. While preparing for her entrance exam to the United Scenic Artists Union, Zipprodt taught herself all of costume history by studying materials at the New York Public Library. She passed the exam and became a card-carrying Costume Designer before she had ever professionally designed a costume.

Zipprodt began her career by assisting the legendary Irene Sharaff, and by 1957 had designed her first solo Broadway show, The Potting Shed . She first worked with Harold Prince on The Matchmaker in 1962, and together they created some of the sixties most memorable shows: Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Zorba (1968), and Cabaret (1966). Hal Prince also put Zipprodt in contact with Jerome Robbins, another of her longtime collaborators.

She had a comprehensive work method that included thorough research. For example, she had a series of dinners with a Brooklyn rabbi to research 1964’s Fiddler on the Roof, and during 1989-1990 she spent six months in Japan studying weaving methods to make Shogun absolutely authentic. She would sketch first on tracing paper, so she could turn the figure over and over as she worked to keep it balanced. Then the image would be photocopied numerous times and Zipprodt would begin to experiment with color. In her collection of fabric swatches she claimed to have 500 different shades of red (and that none of them were ever quite right).

As her career progressed, Zipprodt in turn took on her own interns (like Ann Hould-Ward who would go on to Beauty and the Beast fame) and taught as an adjunct professor at Brandeis 1985-1992. She also lectured and/or taught master classes at many other universities including Harvard, Yale, New York University, Wellesley, Smith and Pratt. In 1981 The Village Voice named her one of New York City’s 10 best-dressed women. Zipprodt was a 1992 inductee into the Theater Hall of Fame, and in 1997 received the Theatre Development Fund’s Irene Sharaff Award for Lifetime Achievement.

In 1993 Zipprodt married a man whose proposal she had refused some 43 years earlier. After graduating from college, Zipprodt dated Lieutenant Colonel Robert O'Brien Jr., who wanted to marry her. She declined his proposal and instead moved to New York. In the early 90s, O'Brien came across Zipprodt's name in a Playbill and learned she taught at Brandeis University. According to The New York Times, O'Brien called the university, and asked them to deliver the following message - "Bob O'Brien called, and I want to marry her." The university obliged, as did Zipprodt. Her wedding gown was designed after a gown she created for Eliza in My Fair Lady (1993), and incorporated the sleeves of her mother’s wedding gown. For the next several years Zipprodt would split her time between New York City and O’Brien’s Virginia home. She died in her Greenwich Village apartment in July 1999.

From the guide to the Patricia Zipprodt papers and designs, 1925-1999, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Civic Repertory Theatre records, 1917-1985, 1925-1936 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Alix Jeffry additional papers, 1935-1993. Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Tom Moore papers, 1950-2007 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Jo Mielziner papers, 1903-1976 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Parsons, Sally Ann. Sally Ann Parsons designs, 1980-2001. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Patricia Zipprodt papers and designs, 1925-1999 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Civic Repertory Theatre (New York, N.Y.). Civic Repertory Theatre records, 1917-1985 (bulk 1925-1936). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alvin Colt person
associatedWith Ann Reinking person
associatedWith Civic Repertory Theatre (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Civic Repertory Theatre (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Harold Prince person
associatedWith Hume Cronyn person
associatedWith Irene Sharaff person
associatedWith Jeffry, Alix. person
associatedWith Jerome Robbins person
associatedWith Jessica Tandy person
associatedWith Joel Grey person
associatedWith Lillian Gish person
associatedWith Mielziner, Jo, 1901-1976 person
associatedWith Moore, Tom, 1943- person
associatedWith Peter Martins person
associatedWith Prince, Harold, 1928- person
associatedWith Robbins, Jerome person
associatedWith Tony Randall person
associatedWith Zandra Rhodes person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Costume design
Women costume designers
Costume designers


Birth 1925-02-24

Death 1999-07-17





Ark ID: w6b85v72

SNAC ID: 51821401