Often called the Glamour King of Hollywood, no other fashion designer is more associated with glitz and style than Bob Mackie. His gowns have brought immediate prestige to women such as Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Ann-Margret, Carol Burnett, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli and Cher. But as much as the gifted and versatile designer has influenced fashion, his first love has always been show business and entertaining.
For 20 straight years, Mackie's enormous talent and imaginative designs found a home in television. From The Judy Garland Show to his 11 years designing all of the costumes for The Carol Burnett Show to his groundbreaking creations for Cher on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, his keen sense of story, style and humor helped make both fashion and television history.
Mackie has won eight Emmy awards out of approximately 30 nominations, including his first one for Alice Through the Looking Glass in 1967. That award was historic as the first Emmy ever awarded for costume design. He has also worked on numerous variety specials, feature films, Las Vegas productions, and award shows. His works have garnered three Oscar nominations among numerous other awards, but his induction into the Academy of Television Arts & Science's Hall of Fame is, Mackie admits, "amazing."
"I was flabbergasted, really totally surprised to be chosen. Over the years I've won for things I didn't think I would win for and the designs for shows I thought were incredible didn't win, so you try not to take it that seriously," he says. "But this one I'll keep."
"The part of my career that I love the most was working on television. It was the most interesting and the most creative time of my life," he recalls.
Born in 1940 in Monterey Park, CA, Mackie lived most of his young life with his grandparents in Rosemead. He saw his first movie at the age of six and was entranced by the magic on the screen. He began sketching and designing costumes for paper dolls and then for high school musicals. After a brief stint at Pasadena City College, he won a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts), where Jayne Mansfield wore one of his designs to the Art Student's Ball. In 1962, he went to work for fashion designer Jean Louis and worked on Marilyn Monroe's final but never-completed film, Something's Got To Give. He also joined Edith Head's staff and worked on Ann- Margaret's film Pocketful of Miracles. Later, he drew the infamous diamond-beaded dress Monroe wore when she sang "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy.
A few years later, Ray Aghayan, his mentor, friend and later business partner, asked Mackie to assist him on designing costumes for The Judy Garland Show. The two worked together again on the first Carol Burnett Show, where Mackie created approximately 50 costumes for the entire cast and guests each week, as well as the dresses Burnett wore at the beginning of each show.
"We were turning out so many costumes each week and then moving on to the next thing, that unfortunately I've forgotten a lot of what I've done. I didn't really get a chance to savor it," Mackie says.
Burnett has credited Mackie's success to his attention to details and his ability to think like a producer. His contributions include the famous "Went With the Wind” skit featuring Burnett wearing a dress made from the green velvet curtains with the curtain rod still attached. Mackie's love of movies informed many of the shows' skits over the years. "You read the script, you talk to the choreographer, the producer, and you're part of a team. I always approached my work as part of the production as a whole," Mackie says.
“A lot of people only want to do glamorous or beautiful, but my biggest plus as a designer was that I could do funny, too. What I miss most is being able to make people laugh. It's so easy and it's so much fun.”
His often-revealing designs for Cher on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour from 1971-74 made him a household name, with knockoffs of his creations later turning up in department stores. In 1972, he earned his first Academy Award nomination, along with Ray Aghayan and Norma Koch, for Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross. He won another Emmy for costume design for the NBC special, Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations on Broadway, and another Emmy nomination for An Evening with Diana Ross. Mackie teamed up with Aghayan again on the Barbra Streisand film, Funny Lady, and scored a second Oscar nomination; a third came in 1981 for Pennies from Heaven, starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters.
US Magazine has named Mackie the Most Creative Fashion Designer for two consecutive years. The designer also introduced Bob Mackie Originals, a collection of ready-to-wear clothes. But it's his life long collaborations with Burnett, Cher, and Ann-Margret that have proved most rewarding. They, like all his leading ladies, served as canvases for his art. In his book, Unmistakably Mackie, he describes Burnett as the "perfect venue for his wicked sense of humor," and Cher as his "ultimate muse and perfect mannequin, an outlet for his most glamorous impulses."
Mackie worked with Cher on all of her TV specials and performances. In 1988, he designed the costumes for the 60th Annual Academy Awards, which earned him an Emmy nomination, and also designed the gown Cher wore when she picked up her Best Actress Oscar for Moonstruck. And in 1999, he won another Emmy for designing Cher's costumes for her "Believe” tour. Mackie has also worked on all of Burnett's post-series television shows and specials. He won another Emmy for NBC's Carol & Company in 1990, and he designed the costumes for her return to Broadway in Moon Over Buffalo and Putting It Together.
"I always wanted to be a costume designer for Broadway or the musical extravaganzas they were making at MGM in the old days. But that all stopped when I came into the business,” recalled Mackie in his interview with the Archive of American Television. "That's why I went into television, because that type of performing was going on there. I'm so glad I got a chance to be involved in television and those wonderful variety shows before they went out of style."
Mackie's talent, however, will never go out of style. He created his Bob Mackie Home line of furniture, rugs, lamps and dinnerware, and he currently hosts a Wearable Art program on the QVC cable television network. At age 50, he began designing a series of collectible Barbie Dolls and in 1999 designed the Queen Elizabeth costume worn by Whoopi Goldberg at the Academy Awards. The Costume Designers Guild honored him with the Rit Color Award and the Fashion Institute of Technology has showcased a retrospective of his fashion and costume achievements. Last year, Mackie received a special award for his Fashion Exuberance-from the American Council of Fashion Designers of America at their 20th Annual American Fashion Awards.
"I have gotten a lot of notoriety from designing glamorous clothes but I never really wanted to be a fashion designer and I still don't, really," Mackie says. “I consider myself a costume designer and I'm never as happy or as excited as when I get an assignment or a script to read and am asked to make my creative contribution to the production. Which makes this award so wonderful because the Academy is honoring costume design's contribution to television. I accept this honor on behalf of my deserving contemporaries. Generally we're pretty quiet and we stay in the background, but it's wonderful to be recognized for our achievements.”
This tribute originally appeared in the Television Academy Hall of Fame program celebrating Bob Mackie's induction in 2002.