The sultan of sequins, the rajah of rhinestones, Bob Mackie was born on March 24, 1940. He’s designed costumes for movies and TV shows, created gowns for Hollywood stars and pop musicians, he has a line of collectible high-fashion Barbie dolls, and he shills his latest ready-to-wear designs on QVC. There isn’t anything Bob Mackie can’t or won’t do, as long as he can bring a little (OK, a lot) of bling to it. Happy birthday, Mr. Mackie!
Bob Mackie has a long history of dressing divas (and I mean that in a good way). He earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design, shared with Ray Aghayan and Norma Koch, for Lady Sings the Blues in 1973. This biopic featured Diana Ross as jazz singer Billie Holiday — Mackie had already been working with Diana Ross and the Supremes to design costumes for their TV specials. For Lady Sings the Blues, Mackie created 1930s costumes, exaggerating period details and infusing the gowns with his trademark glamor.
In 1975, Bob Mackie was again nominated for a Best Costume Oscar with Ray Aghayan (who, btw, was Mackie’s life partner for nearly 50 years) — this time for the film Funny Lady. It was another glitzy musical, also set in the 1930s, and the diva this time was Barbra Streisand.
His last Oscar nod was for Pennies From Heaven in 1981. This was (surprise!) a musical set in the 1930s, and it featured Bernadette Peters and Steve Martin. What can you say, Bob Mackie knows his strengths and plays to them.
Alongside his movie work, Mackie had been making costumes for TV series and specials. Since 1967, he’d been the costume designer for The Carol Burnett Show, a hilarious, often high-concept, comedy variety hour. While many of the outfits for the sketches could be rented or assembled from contemporary garments, running characters needed unique costumes and certain sketches needed gag costumes.
Yep, here it comes: Perhaps the single best joke costume in the history of the world … the curtain dress from Carol Burnett’s Gone With the Wind parody, “Went With the Wind.” Putting the curtain rod in the shoulders of the dress was actually Bob Mackie’s idea. The script simply required a dress made out of curtains, but Mackie thought that wasn’t funny. That was done in the original movie. His idea was, of course, brilliant, and had the studio audience roaring with laughter.
Bob Mackie’s curtain dress is now in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. He’s continued to work in TV ever since, and in 2002 Mackie was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame — he’s the first, and so far only, costume designer with this honor.
Carol Burnett says of Mackie: “The key to Bob’s success is that he has a producer’s mind. He doesn’t think of his department alone. He looks at every show as a whole.” Pretty impressive, and you can see how his work fits in beautifully to each production, and even though he’s known for over-the-top glam, he’s not doing that to take center stage. His gowns reflect the character or performer to let her shine in the spotlight.
Of course, he didn’t stop with there. Through Carol Burnett, Mackie met Cher, who in addition to being a pop singer, had a TV show in the mid-1970s. Bob Mackie designed costumes for that show, outfits for Cher’s concert performances, and high-fashion ensembles for her to be photographed and seen in.
He famously designed the gowns Cher wore to the Oscars in 1986, when she didn’t get nominated for Mask, and then in 1988, when she won the Best Actress Oscar for Moonstruck. He’s still designing costumes for Cher, including her Las Vegas shows and current world tour.
Another creation of interest to historical costumers is the outfit Bob Mackie made for Whoopi Goldberg when she hosted the Oscars ceremony in 1999. She did a series of gags in costume, and since two of the movies up for major awards that year were Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love, she did a bit dressed as Queen Elizabeth I. Bob Mackie designed a costume reflecting iconic Queen Elizabeth portraits, although it was made all in one piece with a big zipper up the back because Whoopi had to change in and out of it in just minutes. Still, the historical details look pretty good, including a giant wired ruff and tons of jewels.
Bob Mackie has been designing costumes for the singers Pink and Beyonce, and he continues to work in film and TV. Happy birthday, and thanks for adding more more bling to the world!