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An Unsung Disney Heroine

An Unsung Disney Heroine

I must confess that I was unfamiliar with Marilyn Sotto’s work until I received an e-mail blast from her devoted nephew, longtime Disney Imagineer Eddie Sotto, about her recent passing. I was so touched by his tribute that I asked if he would allow me to share it with a wider audience on my website, and he agreed. Here it is:
“It’s with great sadness that I pass on that yesterday, October 27, at 4:12 pm, my Aunt, ex Disney Costume Designer Marilyn Sotto-Erdmann lost her fight with Cancer at age 82. 
As you may know, Marilyn brought us skills she honed after several decades in the film industry working as an illustrator for costume designers Edith Head, Jean Louis, Norma Koch and others. Her credits are numerous. Classics like Cecil B De Mille’s The Ten Commandments, To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, A Place in the Sun, White Christmas, Sabrina, and Hud, to name a few. She received screen credit for her design on Man of a Thousand Faces, something actor James Cagney demanded on behalf of Marilyn and she got it. 
As a kid, I’d stop and watch her work on Julie Andrews “flapper” getup for Thoroughly Modern Millie Diana Ross’ gown for Lady Sings the Blues, and many others. What an inspiration. Her talents were many; she transitioned to uniform design to bring her Hollywood touch to the opening look of the Beverly and Havana Hilton Hotels in the 1950’s. She went on to write and illustrate her own book on the subject, The Art of Costume Design. The daughter of a portrait and MGM scenic artist, she kept busy in the field of art till one day in 1986, while working on Euro Disneyland, I suggested that Marilyn consider bringing her cinematic sensibility to the costuming being designed for the Paris park, “Auntie Mare” was up for the challenge, showed her stuff, and was hired immediately.

Many of you knew her and her “bigger than life” passion for design and flamboyant personality. She brought the company and her peers a great passion for what could be, always “pushing the buttonhole” to make the costumes less “uniform”-like and more theatrical to drive the story. It was always about the show. Her work did not stop after Disneyland Paris. She went on to relocate with her husband John to Florida to design Walt Disney World parade costumes, resort and cruise ship attire, Super Bowl spectacles and more. A high point to her was researching ancient animatronic costuming for Spaceship Earth’s recent facelift. She told me that she felt she had come full circle, reminding her of doing the Egyptian garb for The Ten Commandments,  decades earlier. 
Always working, Mare rose to Senior Costume Designer at Walt Disney World, where she could inspire young artists. They can speak to that. One thing that amazed me was how she embraced technology and never allowed her mind to tell her she was too old for something. When she saw that I had given up paper to “draw” on a Cintiq digital screen, she had to have one and demanded she be the first in her department to draw on one. How many people in their 70’s would embrace digital in order to be on the cutting edge? Only a true “Imagineer.” Auntie Mare. Eventually she mastered it, others followed suit, and she shared her tips. She retired from a stellar career at the Walt Disney Company after nearly two decades. Even in retirement, Mare never stopped designing and at 82 she was setting the tone for the hosts and hostesses of Embraer Executive Jets. I only hope I can stay that active! 
She is survived by her husband John, daughter Cynthia, brother Ed and wife Adrianne, myself, wife Deena and Mare’s grandniece and nephews, Brian and Venice.”

My thanks to Eddie for allowing me to reprint this. I only regret that I never had a chance to meet Marilyn Sotto; she must have been quite a woman. Meanwhile, her nephew has built quite a resume of his own, having designed the Encounters Restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport, ABC Times Square Studios in Manhattan, and Main Street at Disneyland Paris, to name just a few of his many credits. He was Senior Vice President of Concept Design at Disney Imagineering and has thirty years of inspired work under his belt. You can learn more about him at www.sottostudios.com.

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