Richard Blackwell born 29 August 1922 (d. 2008)
Richard Blackwell, born Richard Sylvan Selzer, in Brooklyn, New York was a fashion critic, journalist, television personality, artist, and former fashion designer known internationally 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 also published the 'Fabulous Fashion Independents' list and an annual Academy Awards fashion review, both of which received 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 Bitches.
After a troubled and poverty-stricken childhood he began acting in theatre in his teens. After relocating to the West Coast in the 1930s he adopted the name 'Dick Ellis' and was signed by the studios to play small parts in movies. Howard Hughes changed his name to Richard Blackwell when he signed him to RKO. He went back to Broadway in 1944 but eventually left acting for a short stint as a Hollywood agent. He discovered a talent for design while making his client’s stage costumes.
The name, 'Mr. Blackwell' came in the late-1950s when he launched his clothing line. He was an important designer and during the 1960s he became the first in history to present his line on a television broadcast; and the first to make his line available for plus-size women. During the nearly two decade existence of the 'House of Blackwell', he was designer to Yvonne DeCarlo, Jayne Mansfield, Dorothy Lamour, Jane Russell and California first lady Nancy Reagan. During the 1980s the emerging drift toward casual wear brought an end to The House of Blackwell.
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. For more than forty years after first released, Blackwell annually spent a week after its publication on telephone interviews to fashion magazines, radio programmes and news networks. No star, celebrity or royal was immune to his scathing critique of their wardrobe. He on occasion included men in his lists. His lists have inspired many imitators and today's often cruel and judgemental view of celebrity fashion owes a debt to Mr Blackwell.
He was a pioneer in American television fashion and was a fixture in the medium throughout his career as a designer and critic.
In 2001, Blackwell was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy which causes limited to severe paralysis of facial muscles and effects the use of the extremities and can effect eyesight as well. Although it is treatable it is incurable, however often it tends to clear up on it own. He was unable to unveil the 2000 list at a live news conference for the first time in its 40-year history and remained out of the public eye for six months. He came back for the 2001 Worst Dressed and continued his great work, awarding 2006's No 1 spot jointly to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
Blackwell died in Los Angeles in October 2008 of complications from an intestinal infection. He was 86.
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