Fashion Icon Mr. Blackwell Passes Away at 86
Fashion icon Mr. Richard Blackwell passed away at 4:15pm on Sunday, October 19, 2008 in Los Angeles of complications due to an intestinal infection.
Born Richard Sylvan Selzer, Mr. Blackwell was raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, New York, in a poverty stricken neighborhood. A persistent truant, he was in and out of boy's homes throughout his early years. As a young man, he acted on the New York stage. Between acting jobs in New York, he had his first taste of fashion, making hats for wealthy socialites and actresses in his apartment attic. After realizing that his theatrical ambitions were going nowhere in New York, he pursued his acting career in Los Angeles under the name Dick Ellis, in productions such as "Juvenile Court" starring Rita Hayworth, the smash hit "Dead End" (having appeared in the Broadway production), and the Universal picture "Little Tough Guy," eventually returning to the NY stage in 1944 with "Catherine Was Great" starring Miss Mae West.
He was signed by the studios to play small parts in the motion pictures and appear with luminaries such as Humphrey Bogart and Gene Kelly while going to school with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney (among others). It was Howard Hughes who changed his name to Richard Blackwell when he signed him to RKO, but he eventually left acting for a short stint as a Hollywood agent. It was then that he discovered a talent for design, while making his client's stage costumes. Once again strapped for cash, he finally decided to pursue a career in fashion in 1958. His line, House of Blackwell, would become synonymous in fashion. An important designer during the 1960s, he became the first in history to present his line on a television broadcast as well as the first to make his line available for plus-size women. By the early 1960's he had become one of the top designers with his own line, creating fashions for such stars as Jayne Mansfield, Dorothy Lamour, Peggy Lee, Ann Blythe, Jane Russell and a favorite among political wives such as Nancy Reagan and Corretta Scott King.
Around the same time, he hosted his own radio show on KABC in Los Angeles, and through the years he had appeared on virtually every talk show on television with his "Worst Dressed List," naming the biggest fashion fiascoes of the year and the less recognized "Fabulous Fashion Independents." The lists, now in its 48th year, are still a source of controversy, amusement and conversation among the fashion elite and the unlucky (or lucky) celebrities who adorn it. Lynn Redgrave expressed it best, when she stated "You haven't made it in Hollywood until you've made 'the list!'"
In 1995, Blackwell published his best-selling autobiography "From Rags to Bitches." He continued to write for several magazines and newspapers under both his own name and a pseudonym.
He is survived by his partner of almost 60 years, Mr. R.L. Spencer. Private memorial services are being scheduled. In lew of flowers donations can be made to The ROAR Foundation at Shambala.org, The Actors Fund at actorsfund.org or noonprop8.com.
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