Mr. Blackwell, of the worst-dressed list, lists his surgical nips and tucks

November 06, 1991|By Elizabeth Rhodes | Elizabeth Rhodes,Seattle Times

Celebrities say the darndest things.

Take retired Hollywood designer Mr. Blackwell, for instance. He, of indeterminate age ("if I tell you, you'll print it"), was in Seattle recently to discuss his new book, "Mr. Blackwell's Worst 30 Years of Fashion Fiascos." It's a compilation of three decades of celebrity barbs known to the public as Mr. Blackwell's Worst-Dressed List.

Certainly he wanted to talk about how he just loved all the celebrities, and meant no harm, and how there's really nothing mean about describing Bette Midler's appearance as "potluck in a laundromat."

No, you'll never guess what Richard Blackwell really wanted to talk about.

His extensive plastic surgery.

"Looking at me you're looking at someone starting over again," he says, recounting how five years ago, when he looked pretty much like a bulldog, a "little old lady" at one of his public appearances stopped him and, "with tears in her eyes, said, 'Mr. Blackwell, please don't get old.'"

Faster than you can say Michael Jackson's nose job, Mr. B. hired himself to a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon ("Dr. George Semel; he's fabulous!") and had another 100,000 miles added to his chassis.

He got himself a new nose that looks just like the nose of his youth when he was a child actor in the late '30s, one of the "Dead End Kids."

He got himself cheek implants. "Here, touch them; you won't hurt me," he says, offering a firm cheek. He also had liposuction on his jowls and chin to vacuum out years-ago silicone injections that had sunk southward.

Then with skin peels and dermabrasion that have left him practically wrinkle free, Blackwell moved on.

"Liposuction around my midsection," he says, standing up to display a youthfully slim figure dressed in Versace and Armani. He also had the fat sucked out of his thighs, "and they used it all."

Where?

To round out his flat derriere, he confides, although he doesn't turn to model the results.

In the past 32 years, Blackwell has turned his worst-dressed list into an entire cottage industry. Now he seems to realize that talking candidly, even proudly, about his plastic surgery may work to his advantage, too.

And perhaps it will. "In a way it makes me feel better about him," says a Seattle woman who was prepared to hate Mr. B. for all the snippy things he's said about female celebrities. "He's not just torturing women, he's torturing himself."

Certainly he does say snippy things.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1965: "In tight sweaters and skirts she looks like a chain of link sausages."

Elizabeth Taylor in 1967: "Looks like two small boys fighting under a mink blanket."

And again in 1981: "She should give up looking for a designer and find an architect."

Is it any wonder she turned up No. 3 on his list of the top 10 "all-time worst dressed women" behind sure-bet Cher and Roseanne Barr Arnold? That list is prominently featured in his new book. "It's so good," he says by way of self-review. "Every page is a smile."

He says people who accuse him of actually hating women "aren't aware that the women in this book adore me" because they realize it's all in fun. He repeats that about a dozen times, and shows off the quotes on the back of his book as proof.

Blackwell began his list when women really followed fashion and being on the list of the world's best-dressed women was a big deal.

Now that best-dressed list is a pale shadow of itself, but Blackwell's worst dressed lives on, like the Miss America pageant, never changing.

Like why doesn't he get with equality, and if he's going to poke fun at women, at least poke fun at male celebs, too? He's not interested, he says.

What interests him more is visiting women's prisons, boys' homes, schools and telling his audiences that if he can make it anyone can.

Yes, there's another Mr. Blackwell there, one who was born poor and illegitimate, who was sexually abused as a child, who hid in garbage cans to avoid getting beaten.

From that beginning he became a celebrity whose list has generated "a veritable monsoon of publicity." All that will come out in his autobiography, due in a couple of years. Like his worst-dressed list, you can count on it.

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