Leanne Mitchell, a Centerville native who headed the costume department at Radio City Music Hall for the Rockettes, died Aug. 13 in Bend, Oregon. She was 90.
Her death was confirmed by Anne Halsey, her grandniece, to the Daily Iowegian on Monday.
A release sent by Halsey stated that late in her life Mitchell said, “I suppose when I did, my obituary will mention the Rockettes,” with a mix of pride and nostalgia.
Mitchell was preceded in death by husbands, Bill McConville, Oscar Koffer, and Sydney Makowsky; brother Earl Nelson Mitchell; sister-in-law Marlys Mitchell; cousin Linda Halsey; and her parents, Nina and Earl Mitchell. She is survived by her grandnieces Anne Halsey and Gail Bertram; stepchildren Pamela Ussary and Chet McConville; cousins David Chapman, Craig Chapman, Ellen Bartlett, Gail Bartlett, Lynne Bartlett, and Carol Bartlett Bowman; and her long-time Music Hall assistant Penny Eugenides.
Mitchell was born in Centerville on Dec. 19, 1928, and graduated from Centerville High School in 1947. For nearly 45 years, Mitchell dressed and fitted hundreds of the Rockettes dancing company for thousands of stage calls, according to a press release announcing her death.
It was a childhood dream for Mitchell, who once wrote an essay while attending school in Centerville that she would grow up to make clothes for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
She began sewing at age 8 for her mother, who was a small-town couture dressmaker.
Later in life, Mitchell said that she “learned every fine facet of sewing from my mother, except for the techniques of pattern making and draping.”
Mitchell spent a year at the University of Iowa studying commercial arts before moving to New York City. There, she began by making bridal gowns at the McDowell School of Fashion while staying with her father’s sister. She also helped a classmate who was working part-time as a seamstress at Radio City Music Hall.
In 1949, after her father scolded her for not writing, she began to contemplate a full-time job. She went without an appointment to Radio City Music Hall and spoke to Hattie Rogge, who had run the costume department since the hall opened in 1932.
Mitchell was hired on the spot as Rogge’s assistant. When Rogge retired in 1953, Mitchell took over as associate director.
When Mitchell married in 1956, she resigned from the Music Hall but instead was offered the director’s position. She took the position and kept it until she retired in 1994.
Mitchell’s costume work appeared on the Rockettes as they performed for President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, the 1988 Super Bowl Halftime Show, the 1976 Bicentennial Parade, the 1983 movie Annie, and the 1987 parade celebrating the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.