First things first. I apologize if I haven't been posting with the same amount of frequency lately. I'm just back from a yearly theatre convention, so wasn't able to keep up with my work for The Underworld. This was right on the heels of the newsletter I do and some extra work I was doing in order to be off for the convention. So anyway, to help spackle in the holes, here's a special bulletin I hope you will find interesting!
As made clear in a recent post, I've been sifting through a lot of classic television lately and while viewing a 1976 episode of Starsky and Hutch, I was stricken with an unbelievable discovery. In watching the program, I was keenly reminded that recycling is not a new concept. The episode in question, Murder at Sea, is a two-parter in which the pair of policemen must go undercover on a luxury cruise ship in order to pursue a crime ring that is responsible for a murder.
They give themselves the identities of Hack 'n Zack, musical comedy entertainers and all-around social directors, apparently. Among the passengers are Kay Medford and her on screen daughter Carol Ita White. Medford, a Broadway actress known for playing overbearing Jewish mothers (such as in Funny Girl, the play and the movie, and Bye Bye Birdie, just the play) is on full-steam in the overacting department, broadly gesticulating and dressed in outre outfits. White, a TV actress who made a dozen appearances on Laverne & Shirley and other popular programs, is awkward and backward.
During the course of the cruise, there is a talent show and White comes out to perform a tap routine in a short, very snug sailor get-up, her brat-like, fleshy legs emerging from an almost-skirt and grounded by some black tap shoes. Later in the episode, she wears the same costume in order to serve as assistant to a once and never again magician (Antonio Fargas as Huggy Bear, who somehow has become a magician from working a few days in his uncle's magic shop!)
When White turns around to get inside Farga's magic box for a sword trick, it's painfully clear that she has been poured into this outfit. Not only is there a strap across the back to help hold it on and together, but the seam has actually torn on her left side! One might ask why a costume was made so small for the guest star of TV show, especially when she's in it for a fair amount of her screen time... The answer to that is: the costume wasn't made for her! It's a leftover from a prior film.
Without scrolling down further, do you know the movie?? I'll give you a hint: It's one of the all-time classic camp screamers. The costume appears in a scene backstage at a Broadway musical. Though the actual musical is never shown in performance, it's meant to star someone who is ultimately unable to go on. The name of the musical is “Tell Me, Darling.”
Yes, the sailor costume is one that was intended for Neely O'Hara (as played by Patty Duke) to wear in act one of her big comeback vehicle in 1967's Valley of the Dolls, but, because she has become shit-faced drunk in her dressing room and not only is slurring her words, but also has inadvertently put the act two clothing on in her boozy condition, she's informed that her understudy will be going on for her. (The young man outside Duke's dressing room door, by the way, is Richard Dreyfus in a small early role.)
The understudy, hilariously, is waiting and ready with a cat-who-ate-the-canary look on her face, prompting Duke to spring across the floor and start grabbing at her violently! (There have been rumors that, for one reason or another, in a film filled with vaguely roman a clef characters, that this understudy was meant to resemble a young Barbra Streisand. Certainly, Babs had hair something like this and a considerable fondless for nautical wear...) It's only one of the hooty scenes of conflict within the showbiz movie to end all showbiz movies.
But if you think that's the end of this little trip down memory lane, think again! Given the information above, it shouldn't be too hard to guess the original wearer of a different outfit that Medford wears while attending her daughter's debut as a magician's assistant. As she waits between David Soul (Hutch) and Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky), she's crammed into a sparkly, heavily-beaded pantsuit over a forest green blouse.
Gays who have their ID card on them (along with other lovers of camp) will doubtlessly recognize this get-up as having belonged to Valley of the Dolls' legendary fire-breather Helen Lawson (as portrayed deftly by Susan Hayward.) The ensemble was her outfit of choice at the opening night party of her latest Broadway enterprise.
The distinctive pantsuit was first designed for the original actress cast as Lawson, Miss Judy Garland, but she was fired very soon into production and was swiftly replaced by Hayward. Hayward was not the same size as Garland, so the pre-designed clothes had to be quickly remade to fit her (and Judy had already pilfered the suit in question anyway! She would later wear it in concert a few times.) The suit was worn by Miss Hayward when she engaged in her infamous ladies room catfight with Duke, a scene that is more than famous to many folks of a certain persuasion.
On Hayward, the tightly tailored suit is buttoned up and accented with a sizeable brooch. On Medford, there is no chance of it reaching across to be fastened, so it hangs there open as a pendulum-like gold locket on a chain hangs within the space. It may be just the gloomy '70s TV photography, but the glittery life seems to have somehow been drained out of the piece in the nine years since it was shown in Dolls. Likewise, the once-crisp, snowy sailor outfit is now more of a cream or off-white.
Who among you had any idea that these costumes, designed by Travilla and a part of cinema history, were later sloppily repurposed for use in a TV cop show?! I know I sure didn't. I couldn't believe my eyes when the duet of memorable threads made its way across my television screen. Even though both of the two costumes were involved in brawls in Valley of the Dolls, they are not subjected to anything like that on Starsky and Hutch. They're merely subjected to being treated like any old piece of off-the-rack clothing needed to slap on the backs of guest actresses.