NEW YORK, -- Bob Mackie was 11 years old when his uncle asked him what he wanted. He said that he wanted to become a Broadway costume designer. Although the boy from Southern California had never been to New York before, he was obsessed with the "color, excitement, and glamour" of the movies.
The new coffee table book "The Art of Bob Mackie", by Frank Vlastnik (author) and Laura Ross, tells the story of celebrity costume designer Bob Mackie's career. It is available Tuesday.
Pink performs at Manchester, England on April 25, 2009. From left, Cher performs at Philadelphia on December 6, 2019 and Tina Turner performs at London on March 3, 2009.
Mackie did not have to travel across the country. In 1961, Mackie started his first job after college as a freelancer drawing costumes for movies at Paramount Pictures. His work ethic and talent soon led to jobs in television where he teamed with Carol Burnett. Mackie's designs were well-known for their bright sequins, and campy style.
Mackie was nominated for three Oscars and nine Emmy Awards while designing for famous celebrities like Elton John and Diana Ross.
Mackie's original sketches as well as hundreds of photographs that tell the story of his brilliant career are included in the book. It will be out Tuesday.
Bob Mackie sketching his designs for Cher during her career
Mackie spoke with The Associated Press to discuss designing icons and a musical character based upon himself. These answers have been simplified and clarified.
RP: This book gives you a glimpse back at your career in costuming. It's amazing how it feels to look at it.
MACKIE: I have been a member of the Costume Designers' Union for 60 years. That's quite a time. That's quite a few costumes. It kind of surprised even me. Then I saw Cher turn 75. I had met Cher when she was 22 and that really freaked my out. You just do what you want.
RP: Marilyn Monroe wore a famous dress that you made from one of your early sketches.
MACKIE: President Kennedy asked her to sing Happy Birthday at Madison Square Garden. Jean Louis, Jean's designer, called her up and asked if he would make her one of those transparent dresses that Marlene Dietrich wore. He used to do this for her Vegas shows and stuff. He asked me to draw the sketch, and I was able to see what he wanted. The sketch was completed and I put it on. It was then that I had never heard of it. Then, a few weeks later, all of the pictures of her singing to President Obama in this dress appeared in the newspaper.
RP: How did your approach to designing costumes for "The Carol Burnett Show?"
MACKIE: You can get a few laughs before you even open your mouth. I love designing costumes. Because you are helping, it's great fun. It's a part of the story that creates it. Who is that woman or man? Where did they come from? Are they stylish or are they messy? Who are they? This is the fun part.
RP: Your most famous design is the "curtainrod dress" from "Gone with the Wind." It was a spoof on Carol Burnett. How did it happen?
MACKIE: In our version, her name was Starlet. She went to the window, took down the green velvet drapes, and dragged them up the stairs. That's what happens in the movie. That was enough for me to find it funny. Then they put it in the sketch. I was forced to come up with something funny. It was my best attempt, and it was a huge hit. It was a huge hit, and got more laughs per minute or whatever than any other thing. That was kinda fun. It's now in the Smithsonian.
RP: Did you once design costumes for Carol Burnett and Cher simultaneously at one time?
MACKIE: It was the most wonderful time. Carol was in one studio, Cher in another. The only thing between them was the men's bedroom. It had two doors from each studio. Cher would sometimes go into the men’s room and say "I'm going through guys!" and everyone would get nervous at the urinal. It was great theatrical entertainment and there was always much laughter. Both were funny in their own ways and completely different from one another. The two women loved one another and exchanged many appearances.
Cher and Bob Mackie at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Gala, Sept. 25, 2021 in Los Angeles.
RP: Cher was escorted to the Met Gala by you in 1974.
MACKIE: Cher appears in a beautiful dress... People wore just cocktail clothes, maybe a jumpsuit or pants. Although they were dressed up, it was not the same as now. Cher's outfit made everyone think that maybe they should dress up ."..... But then, suddenly, people start wearing clothes that look like they looked at old photos of Cher... and then that same dress was featured on the cover Time magazine a few months later. That was huge.
RP: Cher wore a memorable gown you designed at the Oscars 1986.
MACKIE: She wore the first outrageous one with a big Mohawk headdress to give the award for best supporting actor. She was terrified of upsetting the winner of this award, so I asked her. People were shocked at first, I recall. They said, "Well that's not fashion." She was stunning and still is. Why not?
Nelson Riddle and Diahann Carroll at the 47th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles, April 9, 1975. Presenter Cher with Don Ameche, supporting actor Oscar winner, at the Academy Awards on February 24, 1986. Whoopi Goldberg, dressed as Queen Elizabeth I, hosts the Oscars on March 21,1999.
RP: How was it that you won a Tony Award for your design of costumes for "The Cher Show" in 2019?
MACKIE: It was amazing to be able to attend the Tonys, win my award and give my speech. He was funny and had a blond hairstyle. I was a bit more extravagant than he is. It was Broadway musical, so it was okay.