Amanda Blake helped design Kitty’s dresses and showed them off in a colorful 1958 fashion spread
She loved creating the wardrobe just as much as playing the character.
Kitty Russell became a Western icon first and foremost because of her toughness, her smarts and her unwavering ability to believe in people, even if they didn’t believe in themselves. As the owner of Dodge City’s Long Branch Saloon, she held her own in the fictional Old West and the very real mid-century television landscape that were both dominated by men.
The fact that she was one of the most fashionable characters on TV, even in period dresses, didn’t hurt either. Her impeccable looks would not be the same without the actress who embodied Kitty, Amanda Blake.
A TV Guide article promoting the fourth season of Gunsmoke in the fall of 1958 reveals just how involved Blake was in the creation of Kitty’s look, something not many actors can say. The piece starts off by noting that, “As a rule, a frontier woman didn’t sport very fancy wardrobes, even in the wildest stretch of the TV producer’s imagination. However, Amanda Blake of Gunsmoke fame is luckier than most.” The article calls her a “clotheshorse” with the pun intended, we suspect.
But the interview is more than just a behind-the-scenes blurb; it’s also a fashion spread. The accompanying colorful photos show off four new dresses Kitty acquired for Gunsmoke’s fourth season, bringing the grand total of items in her wardrobe to seven.
There’s a bright orange silk faille evening gown; a green and gold taffeta dress with a green plumed hat and beaded amber bag; a plum-colored skirt with a velvet jacket, lavender organdy sleeves and another plumed hat; and a riding outfit with a navy serge jacket, twill skirt and black leather gloves – all of which can be admired in the image above. Those are descriptions usually reserved for the pages of Vogue, not TV Guide!
Blake described the collaborative process that brought Kitty’s incredible fashion to life. “It’s a far cry from the old days in movies when you had a dozen designers making hundreds of sketches for dresses to be stitched up by armies of seamstresses. The way I do it is to get together with Sylvia Posner – she designs Western costumes. Then Al Nichols – he’s an expert on the period – makes some sketches, and our wardrobe man, Bob Odell, passes on them.”
She noted that some dresses are made from scratch and while others are modified from existing costumes. The time period, and the real Dodge City, also greatly informed the wardrobe. “Sometimes we make direct copies of accessories. My shoes are identical with a pair in the Dodge City Museum. We have a ball.”
The average cost for each dress was around $500 in 1958. That’s over $4,000 in today’s money! No wonder Amanda Blake was heartbroken anytime a dress was ruined in a scene. She mentions the episode “Kitty Lost” as one particularly egregious example. “The scene was so strenuous that by the end of the day the dress was in shreds. We had to remake it entirely. Girls can take it, but dresses can’t.”
We’re just glad these pictures survived to show Kitty in all her fabulous fashionable glory.