The Cher Show on Broadway opened to mixed reviews and boffo box-office in December and is now scheduled to run through October. It seems certain to receive a Tony Award nomination for the fashion parade of outrageous Bob Mackie creations worn by rule-breaker Cher over the past six decades. Mackie also makes amusing appearances as a character in this gigantic juke-box musical that takes three actors to play Cher.
Robert Gordon Mackie is famous as an accomplished costume designer best known for his outrageous outfits for Cher, cunningly constructed from little more than netting, feathers and sequins.
As a young boy growing up in Southern California, Mackie immersed himself in Hollywood glamour by seeing and studying the movies. After design school, where he was noted for his craftsmanship, Mackie was in great demand as an assistant to many of the industry’s top designers, including Edith Head. Starting in the mid-1960s, Mackie began designing costumes for many of the top television variety specials featuring such stars: Fred Astaire, Mitzi Gaynor, Dinah Shore and Miss Diana Ross. He has dressed gay icons: Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Lucille Ball, Bette Midler, Tina Turner, Ann Margret, Stephen Rutledge, Liza Minnelli, Elton John, RuPaul, Katy Perry, Pink, and Barbie. Really, who can you think of that has made gowns for Garland and Pink?
Mackie has been honored with 31 Emmy Award nominations, winning nine. In 2002, he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Mackie is the only costume designer in that particular Hall of Fame. His designs for film received Academy Award nominations for Lady Sings The Blues (1972), Funny Lady (1975) and Pennies From Heaven (1981).
Mackie designed that memorable gown worn by Cher at the 1986 Academy Awards (the last really good year for the broadcast). Introduced by Jane Fonda who quipped: “Wait until you see what’s gonna come out here…”; Cher appeared as a presenter after an Oscar snub, not being nominated for her excellent performance in Mask. Cher said:
As you can see, I didn’t receive my Academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress.
In 1967, after seeing Gaynor in Mackie designed gowns in her Vegas act, producer Joe Hamilton hired Mackie to design all of the costumes for the brand new Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978). Mackie worked on the show for its entire run, including the Went With The Wind Starlet O’Hara green curtain dress with rod included. “I saw it in the window and couldn’t resist!” Burnett:
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. His true genius lies in his zeal for detail and his sense of humor.
The Smithsonian honored Mackie by displaying the Went With The Wind dress as part of the American History Museum’s Kennedy Center Honors Collection.
When I was working with Carol Burnett, I could do all this funny stuff, as well as beautiful production numbers. She could look so many different ways. And I loved doing comedy; I loved making an audience laugh. A lot of fashion designers are like: ‘Why would you want to do that?’ They don’t get it. Fashion people don’t have very much humor in them.
In 1999, I saw the Bob Mackie retrospective at The Museum At The Fashion Institute Of Technology in New York City, which ran for three months. The exhibition included more than 125 of Mackie’s spectacular creations, as well as sketches, photographs, videos and ephemera chronicling his extraordinary career including a complete display of Mackie’s collectible Barbie Doll series. Coinciding with the Retrospective, a lavishly illustrated book, Unmistakably Mackie, written by gay journalist- Frank De Caro, was released.
In November 2005, 150 lots from Mackie’s personal archives, sketches, costumes and couture clothing, were auctioned at Christie’s, with all the auction’s proceeds donated to the Elton John Aids Foundation.
In 1960, Mackie married singer LuLu Porter. They had a son, Robert “Robin” Gordon Mackie Jr. in 1961. The couple divorced in 1963. Robin Mackie became a makeup artist. He died in 1994 of HIV-related illness.
In November 2011, Mackie’s longtime partner, Ray Aghayan, who also designed costumes for Garland, Streisand, and Ross, died when he was 83-years-old. Mackie continues to work even as he turns 76-years-old today. That is 50 in designer years.
There’s a whole bunch of drag queens around who will copy a Barbie that I’ve done, and I’ll look at it and say: ‘Wow, that’s pretty good!’. But then other times they’ll try and do it, but they don’t know how to build it; they wear it, and then all of a sudden it collapses.
My entire career, people would say to me: ‘You have to go see this drag show’. And they wouldn’t tell me why, and I’d walk in and every performer would be wearing a copy of what I’ve done. Especially the things I’ve done for Cher.