Richard Blackwell Mr. Blackwell Of Hollywood

January 21, 2012 by staff 

Richard Blackwell Mr. Blackwell Of Hollywood, Richard Blackwell (August 29, 1922 – October 19, 2008) was an American fashion critic, journalist, television and radio personality, artist, former child actor and former fashion designer, sometimes known just as Mr. Blackwell. He was the creator of the “Ten Worst Dressed Women List”, an annual awards presentation he unveiled in January of each year. He published the “Fabulous Fashion Independents” list and an annual Academy Awards fashion review, both of which receive somewhat less media attention. His longtime companion, former Beverly Hills hairdresser, Robert Spencer, managed him. He wrote two books, Mr. Blackwell: 30 Years of Fashion Fiascos and an autobiography, From Rags to B***h*s.

Blackwell was born Richard Sylvan Selzer and raised in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. He was of Jewish descent and grew up in the tenements that housed the “working-poor” immigrant families of the early 20th century. As a child, he claimed he was severely beaten by his stepfather, often resorting to sleeping in the alley beneath his fire escape with a broken bottle he used for protection rather than face further abuse. He only completed the third grade of elementary school. When he was 11, he was the victim of rape by an older man while attending a boys’ camp. He also worked as a prostitute in his early days.
The first “Ten Worst Dressed Women” list premiered in 1960, to moderate media success, but as the House of Blackwell became more successful, the list took off. By its third year every television and radio network and virtually all news services worldwide began to cover it. Forty-seven years after first release, Blackwell annually spent a week after its publication on telephone interviews to fashion magazines, radio programs and news networks. The list is a conglomeration of techniques from first letter alliteration: Martha Stewart – “dull, dowdy and devastatingly dreary” and consonant: “fabulous fashion independents”, to free verse: Cher – “A million beads/And one overexposed derriere”, and pun: Queen Elizabeth, “Was she the palace Christmas tree, or just a royal clown?” About Wynona Judd – “She looks like Hulk Hogan in sequins.” Often, he simply quipped: Martha Stewart – “Dresses like the centerfold for Farmers’ Almanac”, and other times combines forms: Dixie Chicks – “They look like a trio of truck stop fashion tragedies/ trapped in a typhoon”. The list’s popularity has waned in some segments of contemporary culture, many feeling that it is mean-spirited. However, Blackwell has displayed personal missives from many celebrities including Dolly Parton, Mariah Carey and country singer Tanya Tucker expressing their thanks for being selected. Other former list alumni like “Hollywood Beat” editor, Marci Weiner – “Why does Marci Weiner always dress like she’s auditioning for a Fellini movie?” – who was initially angered by her inclusion, now considers it an honor. Still, despite its decline in universal acceptance, it was nonetheless published each year.

The list spawned a parade of imitators from TMZ’s In The Zone: Mr. Blackwell vs. TMZ to the UK’s The Sun newspaper’s Sun Women Online: Celebrity Style Watch and the less known such as “The Catwalk Queen”. Not all are lists, but virtually all include jibes and jabs similar to those that Blackwell first used to capture media attention in the early 1960s. Harry Shearer’s Le Show radio program has featured “Blackwell on Blackwell.” Roger Stone, himself known for his taste in fashion, has taken up Blackwell’s tradition of best and worst dressed lists (albeit with a greater emphasis on the best dressed) since Blackwell’s death.

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