By Libby Slate (Television Academy)
"I was a kid, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And you know, I think I changed the look of television over the years."
So said nine-time Emmy Award-winning costume designer Bob Mackie of his work with such television variety-show stars as Carol Burnett, Mitzi Gaynor and Cher during a three-hour conversation recorded for The Interviews: An Oral History of Television, a program of the Television Academy Foundation.
That candid talk occurred in June 2000. More than two decades later, Mackie took the stage at the Academy's Saban Media Center in the NoHo Arts District as part of the program's milestone 25th anniversary celebration. Held December 6, the evening saluted an endeavor that has grown to include 940 interviews with television pioneers and more recent visionaries.
"Do you think that kid had a big enough ego?" Mackie said with a laugh, as he sat down for a much briefer conversation with Scott Evans, a co-host of entertainment news show Access Hollywood. Costume designing, he added, is "how you make a character happen, how you make a personality more so. If it's a famous star up there performing, the audience wants to get their money's worth.
"You don't try to have a signature style, but you try to give them a style that's only for them," added Mackie, who is the only costume designer in the Television Academy Hall of Fame. "Everybody I've ever dressed, I tried to bring out their personality and make them important. You would do an Ann-Margret special, everybody wanted to see 'Kitten with a Whip,' which is what they used to call her. There was a look that Ann-Margret had. And there was a look that Diahann Carroll had — elegant and beautiful and gorgeous."
Mackie was one of numerous industry notables who turned out for the celebration. Others included actor James Hong; actresses Geri Jewell and Michael Learned; casting director Lori Openden; creatives Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, Ron Friedman, Asaad Kelada, Ken Levine, Jonathan Murray, Lloyd J. Schwartz and J. Michael Straczynski; makeup artist Judy Crown; medical advisor Dr. Walter Dishell; music director Kevin Eubanks; network executive Margaret Loesch; network executive and former Academy COO Alan Perris; production designer and former Academy chairman John Shaffner; and stunt performers Sandra Lee Gimpel and Julie Ann Johnson.
"We all know how powerful stories can be. [The Interviews' stories] help us learn about each other, to find an understanding and empathy for one another," Foundation chairman Cris Abrego said in welcoming the audience. He also noted the $350,000 grant awarded last April by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to The Interviews for the preservation of the online archive, a process now taking place in partnership with the USC Digital Repository.
"The initial mission of The Interviews was to preserve the voices of those who created television," Abrego added. "Our mission has now expanded to safeguard the narratives of more recent storytellers, and those who have a difficult time gaining access to this industry. We are excited about the future of this program."
And the future includes, Abrego announced, the launch of a new enterprise: "Access Icons: The Interviews," a feature on Access Hollywood that will show clips from The Interviews in conjunction with current reflections by prominent industry figures. In the first such segment, shown at the celebration, Evans interviewed actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, a recent Emmy winner for ABC's Abbott Elementary.
At a reception following the program, attendees who had participated in The Interviews reflected on the project and the evening. "It's important that some organization put all of these testimonies on file, so that somebody 50 or 100 years from now will be able to look back and say, 'What did they feel like in the early days?'" James Hong said.
"I've been an actor for 70 years. There are a lot of stories that I would like to tell, about what happened in the old days, and it's there on file. And from all these testimonies, you will be able to follow from the beginning to now. Thank goodness this organization did the work of filing all our testimonies."
And, said Geri Jewell, the first person with a visible disability to be cast on a primetime sitcom, The Facts of Life, "To be a part of this is an honor. I mean, wow. The people here have made their mark in television. The fact that I'm a part of it is just heartwarming."