Photo Flash: Remembering The Best and Worst of Mr. Blackwell at the Hollywood Museum

From Broadway and B-Movies to fiascoes in fashion, Mr. Blackwell was the original arbiter of wrong and right on the red carpet. From Carol Channing ("Finger paints, chicken feathers, and glue thrown into an electric fan"-1966) to Bette Midler (Potluck in a laundramat"-1973), Blackwell remarked, "I'm only saying out loud what everyone else is whispering."

The fact that Blackwell is the subject of a recent Entertainment Weekly Oscar cover story and an upcoming TV show, is proof that the man is as relevant today as he was in life.

Donelle Dadigan and The Hollywood Museum is offering "The Best and Worst" of Mr. Blackwell in an exhibit featuring items from the private collection of industry publicist, B. Harlan Boll, highlighting the extensive career and life of the man who everyone "Loved to Hate" -- Mr. Blackwell.

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, in an attempt to escape the abuse he received at home from his father. As a youth, he acted on the New York stage and then Los Angeles, under the name Dick Ellis, in productions such as "Juvenile Court" starring Rita Hayworth (Although later wound up on the cutting room floor), 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. 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 once again pursued his career in Los Angeles.

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. After a life threatening experience and narrow escape in Argentina with Juan Peron, he once again found himself strapped for cash and decided to pursue a career in fashion. In 1958 with the help of his business and life partner (eventually of 59 years), Robert Spencer, 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 and developed the notorious nude illusion look. By the early 1960's he had become one of the top designers, 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.

In addition to hosting his own popular radio show on KABC in Los Angeles, Blackwell 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 List," as it was often referred, became one of the most copied publications (in both content and style) world-wide. After 48 years of list making, they have continued to be 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 quipped "Forget the years of theatrical training and dedication to your craft. You haven't made it in Hollywood until you've made 'the list!' Adding, "Blackwell has infuriated more women than Warren Beatty, the Marquis de Sade and Steve Garvey combined."

From 64 to 67, Mr. Blackwell and his partner, R.L. Spencer, produced a series of fashion related variety programs featuring recognizable personalities such as Agnes Morehead, Lily Ponds, Eartha Kit and many more. One of the programs unique aspects was that all the clothing and accessories that appeared on the shows were available for sale, making the Blackwell vision a predecessor to the QVC and Home Shopping Networks of today.

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 until his death in Oct. 2008.

Other Worst Dressed Quotes:

Camilla Parker-Bowles: The Duchess of Dowdy Strikes Again! - from the Jurassic Age ...A royal wreck!
Lindsay Lohan: Tragically trapped in fashion's fast lane...From adorable to deplorable.
Meryl Streep: Her Beauty-of-a-career cannot be denied - but that Beast-of-a-Wardrobe is pure Mother of the Bride.
Alison Arngrim: Little Nellie of the prairie, looks like a 1940's fashion editor for The Farmers Almanac.
Phyllis Diller: Early disaster. One look at her and birds are ashamed of feathers.
Judy Garland: Apparently left all her fashionable clothes in that trunk she's always talking about.
Barbra Streisand: Claims she has furs for every occasion, but must be getting her occasions mixed. Her high black stockings and shoulder chain purse make one think of an unsuccessful hitchhiker."

Exhibit Photos by Bill Dow


The "Beware of Mr. Blackwell" sign that was place outside the home of Mr. Blackwell on the days "The List" was announced
Hollywood Museum Exhibit
Mr. Blackwell and Robert Spencer fitting with client, Jayne Mansfield
Mr. Blacwell with client Jane Russell
Hollywood Museum Exhibit
Mr Blackwell with model wearing an example of Nude Illusion
Hollywood Museum Exhibit
Blackwell exhibits Plus Sizes
Hollywood Museum Exhibit

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