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Bessie Nelson


The esteemed costume beader is a 2018 Tony Honoree.
Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre


In a career spanning over 70 years, Bessie Nelson is regarded as one of the premier beading designers in the country. Born in 1931, Bessie was 9 years old when her Aunt Jenny, a sample hand on Seventh Avenue in New York’s garment district, became instrumental in piquing her interest in beadwork and teaching her the art. In 1972, Bessie moved to California where she worked in Hollywood on costumes for television’s Dynasty, The Carol Burnett Show and The Sonny and Cher Show in collaboration with Bob Mackie. She has created designs for Neil Diamond, Liberace, Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. Her former business partner, Stella Ruata, and she became well known for their work on Michael Jackson’s famous white crystal glove, his socks and his beaded jackets. They were recognized as “the women behind the glove” and were featured in the media. Her artistry took her beyond the stage when Galanos asked her to bead First Lady Nancy Reagan’s Inaugural Ball Gown, and later she was selected to bead Hillary Clinton’s Inaugural Ball Gown.  

Bessie has collaborated with New York costume designers including William Ivey Long, Suzy Benzinger, Anthony Powell, Martin Pakledinaz, Gregg Barnes, Ann Roth and Catherine Zuber. She worked closely with these famous designers and did the beadwork for such Broadway shows as The Producers; Sunset Boulevard; Dreamgirls; The Drowsy Chaperone; Spamalot; Miss Saigon; Wicked; The Boy from Oz; Guys and Dolls; Crazy for You; A Chorus Line; Beauty and the Beast; Mama Mia!; The Lion King; Macbeth; Chicago; The Color Purple; Aladdin; Frozen; The King and I; Hello, Dolly!; The Donna Summer Musical; and many more. Bessie’s beading appeared in motion pictures including 101 Dalmatians for Glen Close, My Best Friend’s Wedding for Julia Roberts, the remakes of The Pink Panther for Beyoncé, The Stepford Wives for Bette Midler, Nicole Kidman and Glenn Close, and Sabrina for Julia Ormon. Don’t mention retirement to Bessie Nelson, for this dynamo is still going strong today and possesses the same inner sparkle as the colorful beads she sews!