Byline: Emily Holt
From divas on the Broadway stage to Barbie on QVC’s rotating pedestal, Bob Mackie has dressed them all. For more than thirty years, he has fought the good fight to ensure glamour’s place on stage and screen. And on a recent Tuesday evening, Mackie brought it to Sotheby’s in Beverly Hills to present a mini-version of his retrospective exhibit, which debuted last fall at New York’s The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Lining the walls were costumes from the Carol Burnett Show, Barbies in their Mackie regalia and sketches of Mackie’s designs, as he took those present on a brief, informal trip through his career.
Mackie started as an assistant in demand by Hollywood’s top designers; before long, he was the one in need of the assistants. He dressed Mitzi Gaynor in her Las Vegas show and moved with her to television. There, he won an Emmy for his work on her variety special, “Mitzi Roaring in the ’20s,” indicating only the beginning of Mackie’s success in the medium.
After seeing Mitzi Gaynor’s special, television producer Joe Hamilton asked Mackie to design all the costumes for the upcoming season of “The Carol Burnett Show.” During his 11 years there, Mackie displayed an amazing range of talent, able to dress anyone from a group of floppy clowns to the divine “Nora Desmond.”
While working on the Burnett Show, Mackie encountered a ingenue named Cher who took a look at Carol’s gowns and asked Mackie, “When I can afford it, can you do a little beading for me?” As Mackie himself put it, “Little did I know.”
That encounter soon led to a long and prosperous run, dressing Cher professionally for “Sonny and Cher” as well as personally. The most memorable personal design of all was the black and silver number Cher wore strutting down the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Defending his barely-there creation, Mackie said, “With a body like Cher’s, you don’t look so naked if nothing hangs over it.”
From television, Mackie moved to films, earning three Oscars along the way, one each for dressing Diana Ross in “Lady Sings the Blues,” Barbra Streisand in “Funny Lady” and Bernadette Peters in “Pennies From Heaven.”
“I love doing films; I thought I’d do films all my life. As it turns out, I’m doing furniture,” Mackie said, referring to his more recent return to the small screen. For ten years, he has appeared courtesy of QVC, creating special-edition Barbies for the home shopping program.
His latest venture for QVC delves into furniture: The Bob Mackie Home collection debuted last spring with upholstered furniture, and will expand later this year with rug and lighting collections.
Despite his success on QVC, Mackie is far from finished dressing superstars. Last season, he dressed Liza Minnelli for her return to Broadway in “Minnelli on Minnelli”; and Carol Burnett in Stephen Sondheim’s “Putting It Together.” Further proof that still, whether it’s a fashion doll or a Broadway diva, there is a Mackie design for all of them.