Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Prince and the Showgirl

It's not without some irony that this self-made arbiter of good taste, and the creator of the notorious "Worst Dressed List," found his most notorious and publicized celebrity client in the form of Jayne Mansfield. She was named to Mr. Blackwell's infamous list in 1961, and to Jaynie's credit, turned to the designer for advice; he soon set about turning the showgirl into a lady.

There never seemed to be a shortage of photographers around when Jayne went for her Blackwell fittings and, Mansfield being Mansfield, one wonders if she viewed the whole thing as a grand publicity stunt: she had been publicly pilloried for her style by this man, then charmed him into becoming her personal designer! If this was the case, it was a two-way street: Richard Blackwell could never be described as one who shied away from publicity, and though the two seemed like chalk and cheese on paper, he truly met his ideal partner in crime in La Mansfield.

It was a successful partnership for a few years; and then there came a rift. Jayne signed on to do a quickie comedy called Promises! Promises! (1963) - the main selling point of which was a series of scenes where she appeared topless. The furor this caused may seem unfathomable today, but cannot be underestimated - obscenity charges were leveled, movie theaters were threatened with cease and desist papers, even the custody of Jayne's children was challenged. It all made for reams of publicity, of course, but not necessarily good publicity - even if they spelled your name correctly. How does this involve Mr. Blackwell? Well, besides being a publicity hound extraordinaire, Jaynie was also well-known for her thrift: she furnished her famous Pink Palace almost entirely on freebies, and in lieu of charging a fee for making a personal appearance at a supermarket or department store, often walked away with thousands of dollars' worth of free merchandise! So when Promises! Promises!'s meager budget wouldn't allow for a costume designer, Jayne simply wore her own custom-designed Blackwell wardrobe - and then had Mr. Blackwell's name listed in the credits, and, of course, the publicity materials.

Jayne may have thought she was doing the right thing by crediting Blackwell, whether he was aware of it or not; but Blackwell was furious at being associated with what was essentially a glorified nudie film. He severed his ties with the Pink Goddess, and by 1964, she was back on his Worst Dressed List. But time heals all wounds, and when Blackwell passed away in 2008, a lovely, demure Jayne Mansfield graced the back cover of his memorial service program. "To Richard," she wrote in her looping, heart-dotted hand, "my fantastic, adorable designer. Love, Jayne."


For DONNA LETHAL, of course!


  1. What a wonderfully written entry — I enjoyed it so much! Thanks!

  2. Very interesting and well done! I had no clue.

  3. neither did i! i always wondered where he came from. i had no idea that he had designed anything....

  4. Life is just too short to have a disagreement ruin a great friendship. Great post.

  5. In it's nonsensicality, the joining of these two makes perfect sense.

    Superb post Toddly!

    WV - mines. Back off bitch, that dress is mines.

  6. You always share the most interesting things. What an interesting story. Love it!

  7. A marvellous exercise in camp, darling... Jx