Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Love Affair with John Bates

Picture a chubby pre-teen girl in a bland plaid catholic school uniform with white go-go boots. That was me in 1964. Even at age 10 I was into fashion. I would scan magazines and TV ads for appealing items. I would “design” some of the outfits my mother painstakingly stitched for me. She was an excellent seamstress and could combine bits and pieces from several different patterns to achieve the “look” we wanted. All I know is when I wore a groovy outfit, I felt marvelous!

Since we lived in the Canadian border town of Detroit, we had ready access to British television shows. Enter The Avengers. Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel. Not only was she the model of the liberated woman who could do it all, she sported  the trendiest clothing and the most fabulous accessories including the previously mentioned gogo boots.

The  clothing designer who first defined Mrs. Peel’s  élan was John Bates.  His fashions underscored her character. That of the truly unencumbered  female. One minute she was in a feminine lacy dress with ruffles and pearls. The next in a one piece leather cat suit, of coarse, with matching boots.

Bates' designs for Emma Peel included leather cat suits, low slung trousers, empire waist mini and maxi dresses and jackets featuring PVC and Op Art designs. The garments not only made her look fantastic but were also fun and functional. Moreover, they were objects of lust and (verbose) desire for myself and all my friends.

At the age of 18 in 1957, Bates worked as an apprentice at the design house of Herbert Sidon, in London. He would then go on the be a fashion illustrator. In 1960 Bates introduced the Jean Varon label. The designs were fresh, bright and modern.  Bates’ collections were immensely popular in the London boutiques. They were sought after by trendsetters like Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Marianne Faithful.

Bates quipped,”I called it Jean Varon because at the time an English name like John Bates meant nothing, you had to appear to be French. Jean is French for John and Varon because there was no "V" in the rag trade book. Jean Varon made a good graphic image"

His creations were imitated and mimicked by many  American clothing companies. Very short minis, trouser suits, lace dresses, cat suits and tube dresses.  These styles seemed to define not only that particular time, but an attitude that a woman could be anyone she wished to be depending upon her couture. 

In the 1960’s there was even a Poppy Parker doll in Great Britain with outfits designed that closely resemble Bates creations. 

In 1965, one of his dresses with a mesh midriff was chosen as the Dress of the Year and donated to the Fashion Museum in Bath, which in 2006 held a major retrospective show of his work.

One of Bates' most influential champions was Marit Allen, the editor of British Vogue's Young Ideas. Allen considered Bates the true inventor of the miniskirt, rather than Mary Quant or André Courrèges. Bates designed a wedding ensemble for Marit Allen that is displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Allen  said of Bates, “John Bates loves short skirts, money, false eyelashes and Cilla Black. Hates English bras, big busts and any sort of foundation garment.”

Believe it or not some John Bates/Jean Varon items can be purchased online on Etsy and Ebay and other sites. Some at very reasonable prices.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer of Hate 1967

The following epistle took over a year for me to finish. It was written with anger, remorse, and sadness. Death is always difficult to witness. Whether, a person or a city.


Sunday, July 23, 1967, Detroit, Michigan. The weather was a very warm 86°. What began that day and lasted until the following Thursday would forever change the face of my 
beloved city and indeed, the entire country‘s view of it. In particular, it transformed my safe secure neighborhood to a environment of mistrust, bigotry and fear.

I had a ringside seat to the Detroit riots in 1967. The Summer of Love became the Summer of Hate. Gone were the days when I could walk the 7 blocks to the Wanda Drugs to pick up a copy of 16 magazine. Those few days between Sunday, July 23rd and Thursday, July 27 put an end to the security that I had known as a child.

Our northeast side Detroit neighborhood consisted of Whites, Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Germans, Italians, Russians and Greeks. That was the first time I stopped thinking of them as neighbors and started thinking of them as DIFFERENT. We all had various religions and beliefs, but this seemed to not only amplify the disparity, but also to segregate.  I literally felt the community die.

Although the Detroit Free Press won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting, I believe the journalists missed the underlying issues. In actuality, just as many whites participated in the looting and violence as the blacks. However, the media took great pains to present the dissenters only as blacks. The Media’s reasons were insidious. This was my first, certainly not my last, realization of how manipulative and deceptive the media could be.

Many have declared the cause of the riots as tensions between blacks and whites, police brutality,  lack of affordable housing, lack of good paying jobs, the list is very long. Whatever the cause or causes, it seemed unavoidable.  I witnessed the beginning of the end of my city. Nothing would ever be the same after those days.

There were several documented incidents of police brutality. One example the “Algiers Motel Incident”, which involved 2 white teen-aged girls from Ohio who were staying at the motel with 2 black men. The men and women were tortured and eventually the men were shot (by Detroit Police officers) and their bodies left at the motel.

The local television stations were asked to “tone down” coverage of the violence and especially looting that was going on in the 12th street area. Still, the rumors were rampant and the more it was suppressed, the more fearful citizens became.

My father was an employee of the City of Detroit. He worked in the 12th street area. He was told not to report to work until he was called.  This was the first time I remember seeing my father afraid. Although, being a good-ole country boy from Alabama and decorated combat veteran,  he did not balk at the idea of defending our home and family.

I watched my father and the man next door, a retired navy seaman,  as they prepared for their nightly vigil. They each sat on their own front porches with a shotgun laid across their laps. We had a finished basement and my mother and I were sternly told to stay there overnight.

I watched as one by one the garages of neighbors were burned to the ground. I listen to gunshots and loud voices and screams. I listened in horror as fights broke out between people who had lived side-by-side pretty much in harmony for 20 or more years. Tensions were high.

The mayor of Detroit at that time, Jerome Cavanagh, was at odds with George Romney (Father of Mitt Romney) and was reluctant to ask for and/or accept for federal help. Cavanagh, who prided himself on good race-relations, contacted US Representative John Conyers, who visited the heated area on Monday. Conyers attempted to sway the crowd as he stood on the hood of his car and used a bull horn to plead with the people, his people. He begged them, “This is not the way to go!”. He and his car were pelted with rocks and bottles. He returned to Washington shortly there after.

In retrospect most agree that the police commissioner, Ray Girardin, did an adequate job keeping a lid on the situation. He did have the assistance of National Guard troops. On Monday, Federal troops were dispatched by President Lyndon Johnson. This seemed to escalate the problem regarding race, as most of the National Guard Troops were white and from rural areas.

In the end disturbances were reported in more than two dozen Michigan cities.

  • 45 people died in those 5 days
  • 10,000 people participated
  • 2509 stores looted or burned
  • 7231 people arrested
  • 40-80 million dollars in damages
Mayor Jerome Cavanagh himself had to admit in July 1967, "Today we stand amidst the ashes of our hopes. We hoped against hope that what we had been doing was enough to prevent a riot. It was not enough."
Cavanagh's political career was ruined. He did not seek re-election. It is said that he never forgave himself for the destruction the riots wrought.

I also hope against hope that the once great City of Detroit will become a place where each citizen will be happy, safe and proud to be neighbors.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Its One o’clock…

I am a child of the television revolution. I spent most of my free waking, childhood moments watching movies, cartoons, sit-coms, game shows and anything else that was of interest to a young mind. Now, mind you, there were only 4 channels available at the time. One of my favorites was a local movie and commentary show hosted by Mr. Bill Kennedy.

At 1’ O clock his theme song “Just in Time” would play and Mr. Kennedy would introduce the movie. The show aired on  our Canadian border station of CKLW on weekdays and Sunday afternoons.

Bill Kennedy would present movies and interject comments and insights. Some of the “pictures” as he called them, were horrible and he never hesitated for a moment to warn the viewers. Going as far as putting clothes pins on his nose and calling the movie “a real dog….woof!”

He would also often do “live” interviews with local and visiting celebrities. His most well known being a phone interview with John Wayne in 1976 while he was finishing the movie “The Shootist.“ There was also an infamous Frank Sinatra Jr.  phone conversation that ended quite abruptly. I remember chats with comedians, singers, and other performers as well.

Williard Kennedy was born June 27th 1908. He had been  an actor in Hollywood and in the 1940’s was under contract to Warner Brothers. In 1956 he left Hollywood and returned to the Detroit area to begin Bill Kennedy at the Movies. In an 1975 article in Cream magazine he said “I’m not an actor and I have 60 movies to prove it.”

In 1948, he appeared with Ingrid Bergman in the movie  “Joan Of Arc” as one of her executioners. Where he uttered the immortal line, “we need some more faggots!” A line over which he argued against. Kennedy also performed with Cary Grant in “Destination Tokyo.” However, he is best known as the announcer at the beginning of the Superman Television show. “Yes, it’s Superman…”

I directly relate my love of old movies and “old Hollywood” to his commentaries. If callers asked a question that he could not answer, he would refer to his “Fabulous Files.”  His wit was legendary and I believe he coined the phrase, “Behind every great man, there’s a woman with a great behind!” His collection of files were donated to the Detroit Institute of Art in 1987.

Bill Kennedy retired to Florida in 1983 and passed away in 1997. He will always have a special place in the vast Broadcasting history of Detroit. Having met him once or twice, he was always a gentleman. I know I have great reverence and respect for his unique style and panache. 

Some links you might enjoy...


Monday, May 21, 2012

Zeke Beauregard Clifton

Zeke Beauregard Clifton was not typical. In fact, he was far from ordinary. He had soulful brown eyes and soft, wavy, fawn colored hair. He had the soul of a warrior and the grace of an Olympic athlete. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He showed courage, generosity and kindness towards others.

He also had long floppy ears and a large black snoot. Zeke Beauregard Clifton was a red-bone hound dog.

My new husband had rescued him from the animal shelter seven years before, in the late summer of 1993 Zeke was estimated to be about 5-6 months and at that time was so malnourished and in such bad condition that the women at the shelter begged him not to adopt the animal. But, of coarse, he did.

Over a period of a year my husband nursed Zeke through red mange, fattened him up a bit and gave him lots of love.  They had become inseparable best friends. Zeke loved to ride in the truck and often sat quietly waiting (in the drivers seat) for his masters return.

Zeke was a good father and helped his mate, Elle with the birth of their eight offspring. Freckle (soon to be Moose), Brownie, Thor, Heidi, Biscuit, Zeke Jr, Whitie, and Blackie. He cleaned them up as they emerged and snooted them over to her to feed. He was gentle with them even as they nipped at his ears and tail. One of the puppies that were kept, Brownie grew to have a father-daughter relationship with him. He grieved when she later died of heart worms.

I met Zeke when he was 7 years old. Zeke had gotten into a “territorial” fight with his son, Moose. A battle he nearly lost. He had been badly injured and could not live in peace with his son.  His mate, Ellie (a black lab) and his son Moose.  Moose looked like a large dog-shaped Gateway computer box. The renter in the house knew and loved all three of  the dogs, and was a good caregiver to each. She realized at that time, there was no way the 2 dogs would get along together.

In December of 2001, we were living in a small 2 bedroom apartment. We were upstairs and Zeke had to learn to climb up and down the stairs when we took him for walks. He also had to adjust to wearing a leash. He was very patient with us and he loved parading down the street. In a short time, he grew to know the neighborhood well, especially the other dogs.

We managed to find a small “postage-stamp-size” trailer on a couple a acres of land. It had lots of trees, which made both Zeke and my husband very happy. My husband worked a rotating shift and would often be gone nights. Zeke was very protective of both myself and my kitty Soffie, whom he would play with as if he were a puppy. I never had a restless night with Zeke there to protect me.

One evening, soon after we moved I heard a strange scratching noise at the front door. Then a gentle whimper. This was not like Zeke who could bring down the house with his woof. I ran to the front door to witness Zeke with a large slice of pizza in his mouth. He held it by the crust very gently as not tdamage it. He very gently placed it cheese-side-up at my feet. I was so touched that I was both laughing and crying at the same time. That was the moment that I knew how much I was loved.

A few years later when we would build a home on our land, Zeke was there to supervise and approve. He did hate to lose some of his trees, though.

Zeke loved to sing, especially Christmas music. He had a very good ear for tones and could actually harmonize with others. He really liked “The Chipmunk Song.”

On one occasion, we had come to a meeting that included  the mayor of town. She also happened to run the local animal shelter. We had adopted our lab, Sally from the shelter, a few months prior.  The dogs were excited to see her and we all ended up at the tail gate of the truck. They were licking her face and wagging their tails.  When a police siren sounded and Zeke began to softly bay. Soon we all (including the mayor) held up our heads and howled along.

Zeke was approaching his 15th year when he developed a very serious liver disorder. Which, along with the arthritis he was already battling was a nasty combination.

Our veterinarian, who tried his very best to help, worked tirelessly until he found a combination of drugs that enabled Zeke to have one last summer with us. By July 23, 2009 the inevitable had come and the drugs were no longer working. He was in a lot of pain and could no longer keep food down.

We drove to the animal clinic with him in the back. Just as we were passing the bridge in Cedar Bluff he turned completely around and sat down. He gazed back at the water for a minute as if to get one last look. Then he slowly turned around and licked my face. He knew he would not be coming home.

He was shaking with fear and in so very much pain he had to be lifted onto the table. I held onto his head and my husband and I tried to comfort him while the deadly medicine was administered. I felt him relax  and soon the life would leave his body.

I knew I had lost a friend that day. My husband was beside himself as we both grieved. Our other animals, Sally and Soffie, were very quiet for several days after.

We had Zeke cremated and in a pagan fashion. My husband assembled a funeral pyre for his ashes and said one last farewell to one of our family member and very best friend. His spirit is forever free to roam the woods he loved.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My love affair with Betsey Johnson

Even as a child, I was always into fashion. I loved going through my mother’s closets and putting together outfits. I used to “design” outfits for my Tammy doll. Mother was an excellent seamstress and would stitch them together. Tammy had several “Sally-contour” outfits including an aqua leather jacket and skirt and several monogrammed dresses.

At that time when my father drove a cab on the weekends, to help pay for my private school education, he would stop at the huge newspaper stand in downtown Detroit and pick up a Sunday New York Times. When he would finally make it home from driving all night, I would literally attack him for the fashion section.

I loved looking at the latest in haute couture from Givenchy, Pucci, Lavin, and Chanel. The 1960s seemed to be a turning point in fashion. The shift from couture to ready-to-wear for designers was in full swing. It seemed the “average” woman no longer wanted to be average.

Betsey Johnson began her career in fashion in London by using non traditional materials such as car lining and shower curtain fabrics. Her designs were soon sought after by the likes of Twiggy, Julie Christie and Brigitte Bardot.

In 1971, at age 28, she won the Coty award for her influence on American fashion. In the early 1970’s she founded Alley Cat line and her ready-to-wear became very hot items. In 2003 Betsey branched out and began her accessories lines. Her bags and jewelry are well sought after. Her bubbly style, childlike enthusiasm and end-of-show cartwheels  have  influenced countless young designers and continues to do so.

I first saw Betsey Johnsons’ work in Seventeen magazine in the early 1970’s. It was a full  (and I do mean FULL) color article featuring her “Alley Cat” clothing line. It included pictures and a bio. It also had some of her “doodles”. I read it, I drooled over it, I slept with it under my pillow. Her work was everything I had been searching for!

Soon after, I discovered that Butterick had produced Betsey Johnson Alley Cat sewing patterns. My mother and I headed to the fabric store to purchase one (or 2, I think) and select the perfect fabric. That particular trip took 3 hours. Pairing just the right fabric (without breaking our budget) was time consuming. I found a bright apple green knit for the skirt and an apple print for the top. The suit fabric was to be a floral knit with a bone background and tiny flowers in muted pastel colors. The halter top was in a sea blue nylon.

I was so excited about the impending outfits I could hardly sleep--for days!

With my very first paycheck from my full-time job at Hudson’s in 1972,  I purchased an Alley Cat top and skirt that was on markdown. My mom wasn’t even mad. As a matter of fact, she loved it. My dad thought it was “too damn short!”

As soon as I could grow my hair long enough, I wore it braided up like hers with clips and barrettes.

Betsy Johnson’s vintage designs are still much loved. Her looks remain whimsical, fun, and current. A nice variety of vintage Betsy Johnson Alley Cat items can be found online at Etsy and Ebay.

Betsey Johnson’s Official site: