Evaluating the legacy of Mr. Blackwell, dead at 86, whose annual worst-dressed list inspired laughter -- and cruelty.
Poorly dressed celebrities can breathe a little easier and let their bellies muffin-top right over their unflattering jeans. Richard Sylvan Selzer, known to the world as list-maker Mr. Blackwell, died Sunday in Los Angeles of complications from an intestinal infection. He was 86.
Will he be missed? Well, that may depend on whether you’re a famous woman unfortunate enough to ever wander down a red carpet — or out to dinner or to the deli to pick up diapers — without consulting a stylist. For nearly five decades, the bit-part actor turned clothing designer/critic with a knack for self-promotion issued his annual wisecracky list of famous women he contended were the world’s “worst dressed.” And often, his take-downs weren’t just snarky; they were downright brutal. In 1963, for instance, he knocked Elizabeth Taylor for being “plump” and said her sartorial style looked like “the rebirth of the zeppelin.” Of Barbra Streisand he once said, “She looks like a masculine Bride of Frankenstein.” Camilla Parker-Bowles? “The Duchess of Dowdy.” Sharon Stone? “An over-the-hill Cruella De Vil.”
His recent victims include Lindsay Lohan (“From adorable to deplorable”), Britney Spears (“Her bra-topped collection of Madonna rejects are pure fashion overkill”), Renée Zellweger (“a painted pumpkin on a pogo stick”), Amy Winehouse (“part ’50s car-hop horror”) and Mary-Kate Olsen (“a tattered toothpick trapped in a hurricane”).
Ha-ha-ha … heh-heh … ahem.
I’m willing to concede that Mr. Blackwell’s list may have been deliciously irreverent — his Brooklyn-born snap-snap bitchness excitingly brash and bracingly honest — when he first launched it into a celeb-worshiping world 48 years ago. And of course he couldn’t have predicted the cruel culture he would spawn. (The Associated Press today credits him with paving the way for Joan Rivers and celebrity fashion bashers.) And, to be fair, even Mr. Blackwell seemed to be experiencing moments of mercy — if not outright pangs of regret — in recent years, commenting in 1998 that he did not intend “to hurt the feelings” of the people he skewered and writing in 2008 that he was sure his targets were “all wonderful people beneath the deluge of dreck they drape themselves in.” In 2000, he told Salon that he “abhorred the idea of being remembered for something ‘so negative.’” He even spared Britney Spears from a spot on his final list because “I felt that it was inappropriate at this time to make comment, when her personal life is in such upheaval.”
And though it may be inappropriate at this time to make comment, when his life is now completely over — and it may be particularly rich coming from someone who wrote about gossip for years — I won’t miss Blackwell’s list. Yes, it was meant to be all in good fun (after all, he called his autobiography “From Rags to Bitches”). Yes, the list occasionally included men. And yes, Blackwell also named best-dressed celebrities and can’t be blamed that no one remembers those. But in routinely ripping into women for having the audacity to age, to fatten (or to lose weight — either way you couldn’t win), and to declare a personal style at variance with accepted norms, he preyed upon our ugliest, sneering insecurities. And if his list faded in import because of the full-time, online chop shops — TMZ, Perez Hilton and Gawker, to name a few — he could at least be proud that they are all, in many ways, his own demon spawn. That’s quite a legacy.
So here’s to you, Mr. B. You gave us more schadenfreude-tinged laughs than Björk’s Oscar-night swan dress.
Actually, no, you didn’t.
More Related Stories
- My text blew up in my face
- Boy Scouts end ban on openly gay boys
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Pope Francis: Atheists are all right!
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- Is recreational pot use safe?
- How I ended up in a pyramid scheme
- My bipolar partner beat me
- Teenagers care more about online privacy than you think
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- Kicked out of the mall -- for an anti-cancer hat
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11