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Jessica James at Jose Luis Salon, Austin, Texas.

Jessica James at Jose Luis Salon, Austin, Texas.

Everyone talks to her hairdresser and I am no different. Jessica James is an awesome hair stylist and a terrific conversationalist. We talk about everything. I don’t know what it is about sitting in a hair salon that makes it so easy to talk about the most personal of things while someone is standing behind you, messing with your hair, but there it is. Jessica is marvelous company. We start talking the moment I get there and carry the conversation on through to the end.

Anyway, the other day I was at my regular six-weeks appointment at Jose Luis Salon, getting a cut and some color. I was in the chair wearing the snap-up gown. Jessica was sectioning off pieces of my hair, brushing on highlights, and wrapping the pieces in foil while we did some catching up. It’s kind of awkward because you can’t turn and look each other in the face while you talk; you have to look at each other in the mirror. Plus, she’s standing up and I’m sitting down.

As I was saying, we were talking. We talked about the book, Unbroken, which we have both read, and whether or not we will see the movie, “Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie. I volunteered that I wouldn’t see it because I didn’t want to see the scenes at the Japanese prisoner of war camps. (I had to skim those parts in the book. Unbelievably brutal) Jessica had heard that a good chunk of the movie is devoted to that part of Louis Zampirini‘s life and wasn’t sure what her plans were regarding seeing the movie.

Next we compared notes about what each of us had been writing. We like to encourage each other in our writing because writing is a lonely business and writers are so hard on themselves. Jessica is writing a picture book inspired by her 3-year old son’s delight with the night sky. It is her first book. I told her that I had been blogging (on this site) about Bob Mackie.

“Bob Mackie?” she asked. “You mean the clothing designer, Bob Mackie? The guy who is sometimes  the judge on ‘Project Runway?”’

“Yes,” I said. “That’s the one. I’ve been blogging on the clothes he made for Cher and Carol Burnett. He’s really a funny guy. You can see his interviews on…” I started to say but was interrupted.

“You’re kidding!” said Jessica, laying the paint brush down in the bowl. “You aren’t going to believe this! The girl who cuts hair over there,” she said, pointing at a 45 degree angle to an empty hair cutting station, “Her name is Mandy – she’s wearing a Bob Mackie original today!”

“Get outta here!” I said, copying Elaine Benis from “Seinfeld” but without shoving her as Elaine does Jerry.

At that very moment, a petite and shapely woman came into view, taking her place at the work station Jessica had just pointed out.

“There she is,” said Jessica. “That’s Mandy.”

At first I could see only the back of her.

Mandy Denson

Mandy Denson poses in her Bob Mackie original blouse.

Fringes of her dark, asymmetrical bob peeked out from under her felt matador hat. Then she moved to the side and I caught her reflection in the long mirror.IMG_2655

The Bob Mackie shirt had a Spanish look, with embroidered neckline and sleeves, with sunny gold and orange paisleys cast against a blue background.

Mandy had some time between clients so she came over to Jessica’s station to talk to us. She told me all about the Bob Mackie blouse she was wearing. Mandy Denson is one-of-a-kind, a lovely girl. She has bewitching beauty. She is an accomplished hairdresser, fashion model, style maven, and vintage clothes hound – and a genuinely nice person.

IMG_2657 Here’s what Mandy has to say about shopping for vintage clothes here in Austin:

“The places where I shop most for vintage around town are Charm School Vintage, Frock On Vintage, and Prototype Vintage. The fabulous Bob Mackie shirt was scored at Frock On for a very reasonable price. The hat is from Charm School.

The tag from Mandy Denson's vintage Bob Mackie shirt.

The tag from Mandy Denson’s vintage Bob Mackie shirt.

“I’ve been hunting vintage for about ten years now, and what I love about the culture in Austin is that most of the shops support and admire one another. My favorites around town are owned by women who really take the time to get to know their customers. I visit them almost weekly just to catch up, look around, and talk about the beauty of our common interest.

“Vintage clothing has helped me shape my personal style into something that feels unique and interesting and a true reflection of myself.”

Mandy Denson in her vintage Bob Mackie.

Mandy Denson in her vintage Bob Mackie.

READERS: For more on Bob Mackie, click here

My husband, Tom Rogers, and I at our wedding banquet. 1986

My husband, Tom Rogers, and I smile for the camera at our wedding banquet at Green Pastures, Austin, Texas. 1986

Me 1988

I wasn’t thrilled when I learned I had to have a Caesarean section, especially in view of the fact that my doctor had not discovered my baby was breeched until I was already dilated nine centimeters and after he had already given me a spinal block. I was 33, somewhat of a late mother, maybe even a reluctant mother. I was a terrible chicken where childbirth was concerned. I had not rushed into having a child. The fear of having to have a Caesarean kept me back. Now my baby was trying to come out through my back and I had no choice but to submit to the knife.

Not only did I have to have a Caesarean that day in July 1988, but, because of the spinal block, the doctor would not give me any more anesthesia, so I had to go into the operating room wide awake. In a little freak-out, I made the doctor erect a tent over my abdomen so I could not see what he was doing in the surgery. I guess I didn’t want to see them cut me.

My husband was there. He sat on a stool beside me and, with characteristic keen intent, watched the whole thing. What I remember most is the way it felt to have those masked people putting their hands into my stomach and digging around. I felt like a giant purse that they were digging around in, looking for a cigarette or something that had drifted to the bottom among tobacco and gum wrappers and dust. After a while, they must have found what they were looking for, because, after endless tugging and pushing and clawing, they reached deep down and pulled out a little baby, my little baby, my baby girl. She had a shriveled face that looked just like my mother-in-law’s.

“Helen!” I exclaimed, calling out my mother-in-law’s name.

Katie Rogers at one month. 1988

Katie Rogers, born healthy, pictured at one month. 1988

If it had been 129 years earlier, in 1859, and not 1988, with modern medicine, there would not have been a Caesarean for me. My daughter Katie might have thrashed around inside of me until I bled to death and she suffocated.

“[A Caesarean] was long considered an extreme measure, performed only when the mother was already dead or considered to be beyond help. In Great Britain and Ireland, the mortality rate [in mothers] in 1865 was 85%.” (1)

Princess Vicky 1859

Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1819-1901) was sure that arranging marriages for her children and grandchildren in the royal houses of Europe would insure a lasting peace; after all, the countries would be tied by blood and relatives would never fight each other. Her first “power pairing” was the marriage of her eldest child, Victoria (“Vicky”), the Princess Royal, with Prince Frederick of Prussia, the cream of the German royal houses:

“As the royal couple departed London at the end of January [1858] during a heavy snowfall, the populace of that city still turned out onto the streets to cheer and chant, “God save the Prince and Bride! God keep their lands allied!”

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Frederick III of Prussia and his wife Princess Vicky. Undated photo, Ca early to mid1860s.

Twelve months later, Princess Vicky was in labor with her first child. Her mother had sent Scottish doctor Sir James Clark to Berlin to assist the German obstetrician Eduard Martin and, specifically, to administer to Vicky the “blessed chloroform,” the new miracle drug that the Queen had discovered and that had so eased the pain of her last two deliveries (children #8 and 9).

However, chloroform was not to be the solution for her daughter. For Vicky,

“The entire experience was ghastly….[D]espite the fact that she inhaled chloroform for hours on end, the birth was extremely painful….Dr. Martin had to work under her long flannel skirt so that royal decency prevailed.” (2)

The chloroform, “two-thirds of a bottle,” rendered Vicky insensible to help the doctors, who found themselves in a deadly position. The baby was coming out bottom first, in breech position, with its arms stretched over its head. The umbilical cord was being crushed by the head in the birth canal. The odds were stacked against a successful vaginal delivery: In that same year in Germany, 98% of breech births were stillborn. The doctors would not take a knife to a royal princess; besides, a Caesarean would have killed her. It would be another 40 years before that procedure would be performed in a clinic.

Dr. Martin reached into the birth canal and pulled the baby’s legs out. Then he reached deep inside to pull the left arm through and pull the body out by rotating it. The motion pulled the baby out but the “nerve complex in the neck was torn” and the baby suffered from fetal asphyxia. (3)

The baby lay motionless. The doctor’s report said that, “the baby was seemingly dead to a high degree.” Vicky was exhausted. It had been ten hours since her waters broke.

Then the baby cried.

“It’s alive and it’s a prince!” her mother-in-law wrote Queen Victoria.

The newborn boy was a royal prince and second in line to the Prussian throne. His name was Wilhelm, William in English, as he was half-English, half-German in blood.

Three days would pass before a nursemaid would mention that there was a mysterious crease between Wilhelm’s left shoulder and arm. The left arm was permanently paralyzed, caused by the pressure exerted on the shoulder during the delivery.

Treatment for Wilhelm

Vicky was devastated that her son, heir to the Prussian throne, should be handicapped. To be Prussian in 1859 was to be independent, manly, and warlike, not weak and crippled. Prussian men, like the statesman Otto von Bismarck, fought duels often with the intent to get slashed across the cheek (preferably the left one), get a clean-cut wound that gaped wide into a beautiful scar, rub salt into it to make it stand out, then boast how you got it.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

An 1896 picture of a German Corpsstudent (Adolf Hoffmann-Heyden, 1877-1964), showing an extensive fresh fencing scar and some minor old ones, badges of honor at the time.

“The idea of his remaining a cripple haunts me,” Vicky wrote Queen Victoria regarding Wilhelm.

Vicky was determined to fix Wilhelm’s left arm, to make it work, to make him fit to be a king, in the Prussian way. Of course, she and the doctors didn’t know that his arm was permanently maimed and useless and that nothing could be done to change that. The nerves were so damaged that the muscles didn’t work. At adulthood, his left arm would be six inches shorter than his right and his hand smaller. His left arm locked stiff at the elbow. The condition is known as Erb’s Palsy.

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm's paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

(Kaiser) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany and his grandmother, Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Note that Wilhelm’s paralyzed left arm is hidden from sight. 1860s

In Germany in 1859, there was a lot of alternative medical experimentation. When Wilhelm was six months old, his doctors began applying an odd poultice to his left arm. In his presence, they slaughtered a live hare (big rabbit) and tied the flesh of the dead animal, still warm, to the baby’s left arm, hoping that the vitality of the animal would transfer to Wilhelm. This they did twice a week for years.

Later, they discovered that Wilhelm’s head was tilting, so they created “Wilhelm’s Machine,” as his mother called it: a barbaric, head stretching device that consisted of a metal rod run up his back, attached at the waist by a belt with a harness that strapped across his head. At the back of his head was a screw they tightened to stretch the head up straight.

The "head stretching machine" was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm's torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

The “head stretching machine” was used to correct Kaiser Wilhelm’s torticollis: his head was pulled to one side by a birth defect. The drawing is by his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia, in a letter sent to her mother Queen Victoria. 1860s

They galvanized his left arm periodically with electric jolts. They cut muscles in his neck. They applied stretching machines to his arm.

They tied his good arm behind him to try to force the left one to work. Of course it didn’t.

His mother made him ride a pony a lot. He would fall off because he had a poor sense of balance, maybe due to the ear infections he had frequently, or because of brain damage at birth.

While his mother’s intent was to prepare Wilhelm to be fit for the throne, these barbaric and medieval procedures had only served to traumatize and depress Wilhelm.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his mother, Princess Vicky of Prussia. Ca. 1871.

The camera had just been invented and photographs were the rage. The public wanted to see its future king. But Wilhelm’s disability was an embarrassment, something to hide. In photographs, props such as capes, swords, gloves, books, and guns were used to disguise the withered arm. Sometimes he held the left arm up with the right hand.

 Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved "Granny" (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, age 4, visits his beloved “Granny” (Queen Victoria) at her Scottish estate at Balmoral. Someone has costumed him carefully so as not to reveal his lame left arm. 1863.

By the age of 12, Vicky stopped trying to find a cure.As Vicky had more children, she showered her love on her new children, rejecting her damaged son. He suffered deeply. He became filled with rage and prone to violent tantrums.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one coy remained.

Kaiser Wilhelm on his 10th birthday, 1869. The gloves are used in an attempt to make his left arm look longer. After seeing the print, it was ordered destroyed but one copy remained.

Wilhelm began to hate the English. His mother was English. An English doctor had crippled him. As he grew up, he would become more and more Prussianized. He would reject the liberal democratic principles favored by his parents and fall under the influence of his German tutor and Otto von Bismarck in favor of aggressive, autocratic rule finding power in military force.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Prussia, 1902

In 1914, he would have his revenge on his mother and England because, by then, he would be the world leader, Kaiser (Emperor, King) Wilhelm II of Prussia and Germany (1859-1941), whose bellicose (bellicose: demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight) policies would help to bring about World War I.  Three royal cousins –  the leaders of Russia, England, and Germany – would be at terrible war with one another.

Queen Victoria, called “the Grandmother of Europe,” had not lived to see her matchmaking plan to unite Europe through royal marriages fall far afield of its mark. Tens of millions of people would die because of Kaiser Wilhelm and Europe would be devastated. Relatives, history has shown, do fight against one another.

(1) wiki: Caesarean Delivery

(2) Rohl, John. The Kaiser and His Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 .

(3) Rohl, John. Kaiser Wilhelm: A Concise Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

 

President Barack Obama dons a tiara with the Girl Scouts. May 2014

President Barack Obama dons a tiara with the Girl Scouts from Tulsa, OK, during a White House Science Fair. May 2014. Photo by Pete Souza.

Tulsa Girl Scouts were able to convince President Obama to break one of his cardinal rules and wear something on his head for a group shot: a tiara.  Last April, the Navy football team tried to get the Commander-in-Chief to do the same thing but with different headgear – a custom-made football helmet – but they were unsuccessful. Obama was not putting on that helmet.

The President explained at the time why he accepted the football helmet but declined to put it on:

“Here’s the general rule: You don’t put stuff on your head if you’re President. That’s Politics 101. You never look good wearing something on your head.”

In refusing to put on the football helmet, Obama follows in John F. Kennedy’s footsteps (“Hatless Jack“) and avoids creating his own Dukakis in the tank moment. He was not putting on a helmet, no way!

Former Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis dons a helmet and drives a tank for a photo op. Sept. 13, 1988.

Former Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis dons a helmet and drives a tank for a photo op. Sept. 13, 1988.

Mike Dukakis was the Democratic presidential nominee running against GOP George H. Bush in the 1988 Presidential Election. His political advisors convinced him to drive a tank wearing a helmet for a photo op. They believed the image would help counter his image as being soft on defense.

The photograph made Dukakis look ridiculous and the GOP spin doctors, Lee Atwater in particular, lost no time using it in anti-Dukakis ads. Most people believe it cost Dukakis the election. Bush won by a landslide. People have compared Dukakis in a tank to Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Dukakis defended this gaffe saying, years later, at least I didn’t vomit on a Japanese minister! (as President Bush did at a state dinner.) Sour grapes, indeed.

 

John F. Kennedy loved to eat at Howard Johnson restaurants:

Whenever he saw one on the campaign trail, we’d have to stop so he could duck in, order two hot dogs and a soft drink,” said photographer Stanley Tretick, who covered the 1960 presidential campaign for United Press International. Kennedy was the democratic candidate.

1960 Presidential Campaign Sticker

1960 Presidential Campaign Sticker

Once Tretick almost got a candid shot of Kennedy eating a hotdog. Kennedy was sitting in his car. Tretick aimed his camera but

He [Kennedy] slid under the dashboard so I couldn’t see him,” recalled Tretick. Then Kennedy wolfed down his lunch undisturbed. (1)

Kennedy thought such photographs – politicians eating hot dogs, for example – were “corny.” He cared immensely about his image. Kennedy studiously avoided being photographed eating, drinking, combing his hair, or wearing any one of the endless hats – sombreros, cowboy, Native American headdresses –  given to him while on the campaign trail. He generally refused to put on the hats, except a hard hat. Heavy laborers – miners, electricians, factory workers – “went big” for him and he appreciated their acceptance.

Senator John F. Kennedy wears a hardhat. May 1959

Senator John F. Kennedy (l.) wears a hardhat. May 1959

THE RICE HAT

Below is the rare photo in which Kennedy looks a little silly. It was taken before he had actually declared his candidacy for president. It was October 1959 and he was Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts. He and his wife Jackie were guests at the International Rice Festival in Crowley, Louisiana. Kennedy was drumming up interest in a presidential run.

Kennedy is wearing a rice hat. I’d like to think that, the next day, Kennedy saw this picture in a local newspaper and thought, “Woah! I’ve got to be more careful when I actually do declare my candidacy! If I look this dopey, I’ll never beat Dick Nixon!” I’d like to think that this picture taught him the lesson he needed to eschew wearing hats in photos that would go viral.

Senator John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie at the Rice Festival, Crowley, Louisiana. October 1959

Senator John F. Kennedy and wife Jackie at the Rice Festival, Crowley, Louisiana. October 1959. Reggie Family Archives.

Three years into his presidency and the president’s aversion to wearing hats was legendary. But that didn’t stop the hatmakers from forcing hats on him everywhere he went.

Here’s YouTube footage of John Kennedy refusing to put on a cowboy hat given to him at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Fort Worth, Texas, on the last day of his life. He enters the ballroom at 9:45 on the tape and he jovially refuses to wear the hat at 45:45.

In three hours he would be dead. The hat was never found.

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the Kennedys. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

 

American journalist and author Kitty Kelley (b. 1942)

American journalist and author Kitty Kelley (b. 1942)

Writer Kitty Kelley always wondered what her photographer friend Stanley Tretick kept in his Marine Corps locker that he used as a coffee table in his study. One day she asked him what was inside.

Nude pictures,” he told her, winking.

She took him at his word and thought no more about it. The two had been friends since 1981 but it wasn’t until 1999, when Tretick died, that Kelley found out what was really in the battered old trunk, as Tretick had left it to her in his will.

Inside she discovered a trove of keepsakes from Tretick’s days of photographing President John F. Kennedy for United Press International and Look magazine.

American photographer Stanley Tretick (l.) photographs President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office, 1962. (Abbie Rowe, JFK Library and Museum)

American photographer Stanley Tretick (l.) photographs President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office, 1962. (Abbie Rowe, JFK Library and Museum)

Among the signed photographs of the president and his wife, Jackie, handwritten notes and letters, and Kennedy buttons and bumper stickers was this PT-109 boat tie clasp that JFK had given Tretick when he followed him in his 1960 presidential campaign. (1)

JFK PT 109 boat pin

JFK PT 109 boat pin

The 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign distributed this boat pin as a reminder of Kennedy’s WWII military service aboard the patrol torpedo boat PT-109.

Patrol Torpedo 109 commanded by John F. Kennedy at far right. 1943

Patrol Torpedo 109 commanded by John F. Kennedy at far right. 1943

On the starless, moonless night of August 1, 1943, Lieutenant Kennedy was at the helm of PT-109, cruising the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific to spot Japanese warships, when:

At about 2:30 in the morning, a shape loomed out of the darkness three hundred yards off PT-109’s starboard bow.”(2)

It was the Japanese destroyer the Amagiri, cruising at top speed. It rammed the PT-109 just forward of the forward starboard torpedo tube, ripping away the starboard aft side of the boat, and cutting the boat in two.

Painting of the August 2, 1943 sinking of PT-109 by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. By Gerard Richardson. Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

Painting of the August 2, 1943 sinking of PT-109 by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. By Gerard Richardson. Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

The extreme impact tossed Kennedy around the cockpit. Most of the crew were knocked into the water. Two died; two were injured. Fully expecting the boat to explode into flames, Kennedy ordered his crew to abandon ship.

The eleven survivors took to the water and struck out swimming for an islet three-and-a-half miles away.

Lieutenant Kennedy was a strong swimmer. He had been on the swim team at Harvard University. He saved one of his men by towing him ashore with a lifejacket strap clenched between his teeth. He was the first of his crew to reach the island.

Six days later, islanders scouting for the Allies on Naru Island found the men and sent for help, delivering the following SOS message Kennedy had scratched into the husk of a green coconut:

NAURO (sic) ISL
COMMANDER . . . NATIVE KNOWS
POS’IT . . . HE CAN PILOT . . . 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT . . . KENNEDY

Despite the proximity of the Japanese patrols, the crew was rescued without incident and the men reached the U.S. base at Rendova on the Solomon Islands on August 8, 1943.

PT-109 Collision August 1943 (by Philg88; Attribution: Wikimedia Foundation)

PT-109 Collision August 1943 (by Philg88; Attribution: Wikimedia Foundation)

John F. Kennedy receives the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his courage in the PT-109 incident. 1943

John F. Kennedy receives the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his courage in the PT-109 incident. 1943

Upon the crew’s return, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his leadership and courage. For injuries suffered, he also qualified for a Purple Heart.

(1) Kelley, Kitty. Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the Kennedys. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

(2) John F. Kennedy Memorial Library and Museum online

Excerpt from interview by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete with American fashion designer, Bob Mackie.
“Bob Mackie Has Dressed Almost Everyone,” March 7, 2013. VICE online.

The television shows you designed wardrobe for back then were classic big productions like The Carol Burnett Show. It all seemed so cohesive. Were you responsible for designing every costume and look?
Well, not everything was designed. I would rent a lot of stuff like uniforms and period pieces, but we were doing 50 to 70 costumes per episode, and we had a show every week.

Carol Burnett and Bob Mackie at Carol's home, 1967

Carol Burnett and Bob Mackie at Carol’s home, 1967

I watched an interview with you during which you said that to get inspiration for sketch-comedy wardrobes, you’d walk around the mall and people-watch. You also said that you couldn’t believe what people thought they looked good in. Is strolling around malls or other public places something you still do? 
I don’t do sketch comedy anymore, but I definitely still walk around malls and airports—especially airports—and I think, Oh my God, look at her, or, Look at those ugly shoes! Today, a lot of women are wearing very unflattering clothes.

Yes, I think the worst-dressed people can be found at the airport because somewhere along the line everyone decided that unabashed comfort trumps any sort of decorum whatsoever. It’s crazy. You have people going on two-hour flights in pajamas with neck pillows and their bare feet stinking up the cabin. 
I know! But the thing is, you can be comfortable without looking like a pig. When I fly, I sit there and I watch people board the plane and I think, Where are they going when they arrive? Where can you go when you look that ridiculous?

Are there any specific current trends that you just can’t stand? 
Leggings worn on their own. It stops me cold some days; I just can’t believe my eyes! Just because it’s stretchy, it doesn’t mean it fits or looks good.

And what about from the past?
Well, sometimes, when they’re happening you think, Oh my God, what’s going on here? And then after a while you start liking it. Like when mini-dresses came in, they were just above the knee and everyone was so shocked. Then all of a sudden they were barely covering the crotch. And now everybody’s got it all hanging out and we’re used to it.

Does that happen with things you’ve designed in the past? Do you ever look back and go, “What was I thinking?”
Well, I look back and I say to myself, “That was 30 or 40 years ago and that was the trend at the time.”

READERS: For more Bob Mackie posts, click here

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:

This one is exotic.

Brazilian Banana Bonanza Barbie is sultry.

Sterling Silver Rose is alluring and soft.

Sterling Silver Rose Barbie is elegant.

The Charleston Barbie is sassy

The Charleston Barbie is sassy.

Cher 1980 Barbie is provocative and skimpy.

Cher 1980 Barbie is outrageously sexy.

Fantasy_Goddess_of_Africa_grande

Fantasy Goddess of Africa is exotic.

Couture Confection Bride Barbie is classy.

Couture Confection Bride Barbie is classy.

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.

In "Gone With the Wind," Scarlett O'Hara prepares to tear down the curtains to make a dress.

In “Gone With the Wind,” Scarlett O’Hara prepares to tear down the curtains to make a dress.

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.

Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman as "Starlet and Ratt" in comic sketch, "Went With the Wind." (1976)

Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman as “Starlet and Ratt” in comic sketch, “Went With the Wind.” (1976)

Ratt tells Starlet,

Starlet, I love you. That – that – gown is gorgeous.”

Starlet replies,

Thank you. I saw it in the window, and I just couldn’t resist it.”

Bob Mackie's sketch of Carol Burnett wearing the curtain rod dress for "Went With the Wind."

Bob Mackie’s sketch of Carol Burnett wearing the curtain rod dress for “Went With the Wind.”

Remembers Mackie:

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)

At left, the green curtain rod dress designed by Walter Plunkett and worn by actress Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, Gone With the Wind. At right, is the Bob Mackie spoof of this dress for the Nov. 1976 "Went With the Wind" parody shown on The Carol Burnett Show and worn by Ms. Burnett.

At left, the green curtain rod dress designed by Walter Plunkett and worn by actress Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, “Gone With the Wind.” At right, is the Bob Mackie spoof of this dress for the Nov. 1976 “Went With the Wind” TV parody shown on The Carol Burnett Show and worn by Ms. Burnett.

This dress scene was number 2 in TV Guide’s January 23-29, 1999, list of “The 50 Funniest Moments in Television” (the funniest moment was the chocolate wrapping scene from “I Love Lucy”).

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!

Sources:

(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”

(4) “Went With the Wind” script

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