Lucky charms really work, wearers say

November 01, 1993|By Rose-Marie Turk | Rose-Marie Turk,Los Angeles Times

Before actress Bette Ford appeared on shows such as "Cheers" and "L.A. Law," she was a matador who wore a religious medallion and a pair of red-and-white silk panties for luck. In case anyone doubts that underwear helped Miss Ford survive five years and 400 bulls, she says the one time she didn't wear them she dislocated her shoulder.

As any true believer knows, a lucky charm just turns up. An unsuspecting Miss Ford bought hers in New York, "wore them at one point, had an exceptional bullfight and began to think they must be good luck."

All it takes to turn even a mundane scrap of material into a talisman "is the magic of the time before," says folklorist Frances Cattermole-Tally.

She once had a magic fencing glove, held together in its final days with dental floss. And as executive editor of the soon-to-be-published "Encyclopedia of American Popular Beliefs and Superstitions," she has collected more than 500 entries about clothing.

"Psychologically, these things do work," she says, "because when your expectations are good, the results are good."

Los Angeles Clippers star Mark Jackson never plays a professional game without his wedding ring tied to his shoe. Author Judith Krantz keeps airplanes aloft with an egg charm she wears on a gold chain. And songwriter Allee Willis won't leave home without a fish pendant.

Then there is 14-year-old Kris Hawkes, who wears one dirty and one clean stirrup to play second base and shortstop for the Cubs, a Pony League team in Los Angeles. He also keeps a photograph of Darryl Strawberry tucked inside his jock strap.

Los Angeles photographer Victoria Mihich found Dame Fortune hiding in a man's black fedora. "The hat," she says, "has always served me very well with celebrities. It gives them something to joke about."

She bought it at a swap meet 10 years ago and never takes it off during a shoot. But her subjects do. "Or at least they touch it," Ms. Mihich says. "So I feel it has this history of wonderful ghosts."

Conductor Kurt Sanderling, one of her "ghosts," hadn't been photographed in nearly 20 years and agreed to give her only three minutes of his time. But her hat changed that. He took it off, began to relax and spent nearly an hour posing for what is now his official photograph.

Film company executive John DeSimio wears a hat to work every day. And he wears a hat every night he plays cards to establish "the proper poker persona." He wouldn't call himself superstitious, but now that he's developed the habit, "it would be unlucky not to wear one," he says.

His poker-playing favorites are a beret, a Borsalino straw ("my Frank Sinatra hat") and a Stetson ("the kind that Harry Truman used to wear"). His most unlucky hat is an Irish tweed, in which he played once, had "a particularly bad night" and relegated to rainy days and golf.

"That's another thing people can do," says Ms. Cattermole-Tally. "They can blame things on something they wore: It isn't you who opened your mouth and said the wrong thing, it's the color of the suit you wore."

Allee Willis, songwriter, filmmaker and artist, estimates she must have "at least 9,000" lucky charms. But none is as lucky as the ebony fish pendant she bought at a swap meet in 1974, around the time of her first hit song with Bonnie Raitt. Then Ms. Willis lost the fish. Or, as she likes to think, "it swam away."

Two years later, she was working at home with Cyndi Lauper. "We walked outside and all I remember is this big glare hitting me," says Ms. Willis. "And there, in the middle of my driveway, was my fish pendant. That was staggering, as if I'm being watched over and someone is taking care of me."

Best-selling author Judith Krantz gets where she is going with the help of a gold bracelet and two Schlumberger egg charms from Tiffany's. One egg keeps planes in the air, the other makes people buy books. And the bracelet is inscribed with the publication date of her first novel.

"I was never superstitious until I became a novelist," says Ms. Krantz, who admits that when "Scruples" was followed by three more bestsellers, it did occur to her "maybe it wasn't the bracelet. But it couldn't hurt to wear it. That's the funny thing about a charm. You invest it with its significance."

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