The passing of Mr. Blackwell at age 86 on Sunday reminds Clockwork of an encounter years ago with the “Ten Worst Dressed Women List” creator. Toiling at The Daily Pilot allowed the opportunity to not only cover Blackwell's introduction of a book he was hawking, but to sit at the same Balboa Bay Club luncheon table with him, his longtime companion, manager and former Beverly Hills hairdresser Robert Spencer and his friend, philanthropist and proud wearer of Blackwell fashions, Donna Crean.
Blackwell, who was born Richard Sylvan Selzer, was in fine form, peeling off jokes like he was Balboa's (also now late) Joey Bishop. At our table, he commanded attention, engaged in conversation with even the lowliest community newspaper reporter and finally parted company like each tablemate was his BFF.
Unfortunately, the swell time that had been had by all was ruined by yours truly's account of the luncheon.
Reprinting Blackwell's jokes on the dais and small talk at the table, coupled with observations about his outward flamboyance, seemed to indicate something he would later claim had never been done: the public outing of Mr. Blackwell. Who knew? Apparently no one, according to Mr. Blackwell, because after the story hit the mean streets of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, he was on the horn with the editor, tearfully decrying the injustice. My line about him having gone in and out of the closet more than a bowling ball that day seemed to really set him off. “What does that even mean”? he asked. What, indeed!
Keep in mind this is a fellow whose autobiography was titled From Rags to Bitches, who revealed he'd been raped by a man at age 11 and spent his early days as a male prostitute, who'd say things like this, at the 50th anniversary party where Donna Crean was presented a pear-shaped, 21-carat diamond ring from her now late travel trailer baron husband John: “I cried when you got your diamond ring tonight. And not because you were getting remarried. Because you were getting the ring.” Or who'd spent our afternoon together going in and out the closet more than a bowling ball. Or this …
Godspeed, old chum.