Known as the costumer to the stars, Bob Mackie has certainly dressed some of the world's leading ladies for stage, screen, and television: Bernadette Peters, Carol Burnett, Raquel Welch, Cher, Mitzi Gaynor, Joan Collins, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, and even Barbie, to name a few of the glamorous gals. His exceptional career — which spans four decades so far — was honored on March 23 with the Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Theatre Development Fund's Costume Collection, which rents to not-for-profits around the country.
“This is very exciting for me,” says Mackie. “I wanted to be a Broadway designer as a kid, and Irene Sharaff was an idol.” Mackie grew up in Los Angeles and only knew Broadway through the movies. He also loved film musicals such as An American In Paris, which is a favorite and for which Sharaff designed the costumes. Mackie came to the Great White Way to design costumes for such shows as Minnelli on Minnelli, Putting It Together, Moon Over Buffalo, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, Platinum, Lorelei, and a revival of On the Town.
Mackie also designed the costumes for the finale of Jubilee at Bally's in Las Vegas, which, as he says, “has more costumes than most musicals.” And chances are, he'll be back on Broadway sooner than later. “I've been reading a lot of stage scripts lately,” he admits. “I'd love to do another musical. I haven't done one since the 90s.”
Actress Christine Ebersole, whom Mackie dressed as Tessie Tura in the 1993 Bette Midler film version of Gypsy, presented his Irene Sharaff Award. “It was great casting. She is so tall and statuesque, and Bette was so short,” says Mackie, who dressed Ebersole in a scanty stripper costume with diaphanous butterfly wings. “The costume is based on the original Broadway version. That production was a classic, so you don't fool with it,” notes Mackie, who also designed Ebersole's wedding dress.
For a Diana Ross TV special, Mackie gave Bernadette Peters a sophisticated 1950s look in a pencil-thin black dress with leopard shawl. “The 1950s were known for big skirts and little waists,” he says, pointing out that the era was also a time for “a bosomy tight look with long skirts below the knee.”
In Lorelei, the 1974 Broadway version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Carol Channing was a knockout in Mackie's 1920s-style costumes. “She wore a black crepe dress smothered in huge rhinestones,” he describes. “That dress weighs a lot.”
Mackie's costumes — whether for stage, screen, TV, or even the QVC shopping channel, where he has sold original designs for the past 15 years to women of all sizes — are known for their embellishment, from fanciful prints to bold beading, as he himself has been quoted as saying, “A woman who wears my clothes is not afraid to be noticed!”