Richard Blackwell (August 29, 1922 – October 19, 2008)
Richard Sylvan Selzer was an American fashion critic,
journalist, TV and radio personality, former child actor and former fashion designer. You may not recognize his first name, but does “Mr. Blackwell” ring any bells? Yes, he was the one who presented the “Ten Worst Dressed Women’s List” each January.
Blackwell was born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants of Russian descent. As a teen he tried to make it in acting under the name “Dick Ellis.” After a string of small parts he ended up working as a messenger at a Warner Brothers lot in Burbank. Howard Hughes saw him, signed him to an RKO contract and changed his name to Richard Blackwell. He quit acting in 1944 to become an agent, but quickly realized his talent for design after making stage costumes for his clients.
In the late 1950s he debuted his clothing line and was the first designer to make a line exclusively for plus-sized women. During the 1980s the emphasis drifted toward casual wear and Blackwell got out of the design world.
At the beginning of his design career, he was asked to do a “10 Best and Worst Dressed People” list. In the 1960s he began focusing on the “10 Worst Dressed Women” and by its third year, every TV and radio network, then almost all worldwide services covered it. Blackwell’s list continues on, thanks to political consultant Roger Stone, though he places more emphasis on the “Best Dressed.”
Blackwell lived in the Hancock Park section of L.A. with his partner of 60 years, Robert Spencer. In 2001, he was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy which causes paralysis of facial muscles. Blackwell died in L.A. on October 19, 2008 at age 86 from complications from an intestinal infection.