July 8, 2008
Costume Maker and Performer
By Gerry Smith, Chicago Tribune
Jul. 8--Blake Anderson believed the world was his costume.
Mr. Anderson once killed a rooster on his family's farm in far west suburban Elburn and, with the help of a taxidermist, used it to fashion a feathered hat worn by the character Dolly Levi in a stage production of "Hello Dolly."
Such creativity and resourcefulness defined the theater career of Mr. Anderson, 61, an actor, costume maker and designer who died Wednesday, July 2, in his Elburn home of complications related to alcoholism, according to his family.
Born in Aurora, Mr. Anderson grew up in Elburn, where he began writing and producing plays in his garage at age 5, said his sister Leah.
As a teenager, Mr. Anderson performed regularly in children's theater productions at Pheasant Run Resort and Spa Hotel in St. Charles and various shows produced by Playmakers Inc., a Geneva community theater group, his family said.
In 1965, he graduated from Kaneland High School and went on to study theater at Northern Illinois University while apprenticing at the Little Theatre On the Square in Downstate Sullivan, his family said.
He played numerous roles in the musical "Hair" during its run at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago. Later, he managed, directed and choreographed a national tour of the rock musical.
Mr. Anderson also performed in the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York City and later in Los Angeles, his family said.
Hoping to continue his theater work without the grind of auditions, Mr. Anderson shifted his focus to designing and building costumes. For 13 years, he owned and operated Stage Rags, a costume business in Batavia that worked with high school and community theater groups.
"He wanted people to get a good theatrical experience and not have to pay $150 to see a show downtown," Leah Anderson said.
Mr. Anderson made costumes for almost every occasion, including parades, wedding parties, Halloween and the Christmas show of singer Kenny Rogers, his family said. He also made mascot costumes for high school, college and semiprofessional athletic teams.
He was meticulous, taking pains to ensure every detail was right, down to the pockets and lining of his suits, said his sister Barbara Anderson.
"He was sort of a perfectionist," she said. "He wouldn't do anything unless he could do it right."
He sold his costume design business to Julane Sullivan, who renamed it All Dressed Up. Mr. Anderson continued to work for Sullivan.
Although his costume work left him with few opportunities to perform, he occasionally would play roles that allowed him to showcase his acting skills, including the character Fagan in the musical "Oliver!"
But to his family, Mr. Anderson was even better suited for another role.
"He was Peter Pan," Leah Anderson said. "He never wanted to grow up."
Survivors also include two brothers, Jay and Robin; and another sister, Nona Otis.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
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