In 1990, American fashion guru Bob Mackie began to design Barbie dolls for toymaker Mattel. A peek at that collection demonstrates Mackie’s incomparable creative imagination:
Sultry. Elegant. Sassy. Outrageously Sexy. Exotic. Classy. While these Bob Mackie costumes are fantastically diverse, they have one trait in common. They are glamorous. They are designed to flatter the woman – and to make her stand out. Whether designing for the stars or for Barbie, the Bob Mackie name has become synonymous with over-the-top, splashy, flashy glamour.
Then isn’t it ironic that the costume for which Mackie may be most remembered is not glamorous at all but wildly funny and enormously unflattering?
Not really. Because Bob Mackie got his start in designing costumes for TV, most memorably for “The Carol Burnett Show” (1967-1978), a variety/sketch comedy show for which he designed costumes for all 287 episodes for the entire crew – from the dancers to the secondary actors to the stars – for all the skits, every week, comic and elegant clothing.
We made a lot of costumes!” said Bob Mackie. ‘Nobody had more fun than I did, doing that kind of a show, a weekly show like that…. We could be glamorous one moment, horrible the next. It was just crazy, It was crazy, and I loved it.'” (1)
Carol Burnett’s costar Vicky Lawrence said of Bob Mackie:
I just thought he was a genius….I just remember always feeling either very funny or very beautiful.”
The Dress in the Window
The eighth episode of the tenth season of “The Carol Burnett Show” (Nov. 13, 1976) opened with Carol Burnett introducing the comedy sketch, “Went With the Wind,” a parody spoof on the 1939 epic film, “Gone With the Wind.” Carol said:
Recently, nearly the entire nation spent a total of 5 hours watching ‘Gone with the Wind’ make its TV debut. So for those of you who ran out of Kleenex and were unable to watch it, we put together our own mini-version to let you know what you’ve missed. Uh-huh.” (2)
Bob Mackie was responsible for the costume design for “Went With the Wind.” As usual, he had read the script for creative inspiration. When the script called for Carol Burnett, as Starlet O’Hara, to tear the curtains down and turn them into a dress that just hung off her, Mackie did not find it funny, as that is the same thing Scarlett O’Hara had done in the actual film. He had to think of something original. He was stymied for ideas.
Finally, the morning of the Thursday filming, he thought of what to do. He ordered a real curtain rod to be fitted into the velvet drapes. The rod was enormously heavy. He carried it up the narrow back steps behind the stage staircase and helped Carol’s dresser – a tiny woman – put it on Carol.
In the next scene, Carol makes her dramatic entrance. She descends the stairwell to greet Captain Ratt Butler, played by Harvey Korman, trying to entice him into giving her money. Carol is wearing not just the curtains and sash but also the curtain rod like a long shoulder pad. When the audience saw the curtain rod jutting out from Carol’s shoulders, they shrieked with laughter.
Ratt tells Starlet,
Starlet, I love you. That – that – gown is gorgeous.”
Thank you. I saw it in the window, and I just couldn’t resist it.”
I’ve never heard laughter like that in my life. It just hit….It just made people laugh, and it still does. Every time I talk to anybody, they bring up this silly curtain rod outfit, with the velvet drapes attached to it. I had an exhibit in New York of my whole career and what was in the front window, that outfit! ….It will be on my tombstone one day.” (3)
Now Mackie’s curtain rod dress is enshrined in the Smithsonian Museum as part of the American History Museum’s Kennedy Center Honors Collection.
Click here to watch the youtube clip of “Went With the Wind.” The curtain rod dress appears at 13:13. Enjoy!
(1) Youtube clip: “Gags and Gowns: The Genius of Bob Mackie on The Carol Burnett Show.”
(2) wiki: “Went With the Wind”
(3) Youtube clip: Bob Mackie interview: “’The Carol Burnett Show’: TV legends”
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