Puttin’ on the Ritz

Poster for Putin on the Ritz with Fred  Astaire

Okay, so it was the mid-1970s and I was acting in a play in Indianapolis which is in mid-Indiana. Always looking to pick up some spare change, I auditioned for a commercial slated for local TV. Make that slated for “late-night TV.” Make that “low-budget TV.” Very low budget. The ad was for a local tuxedo rental joint. Let’s call it PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ. All tuxedo rental joints in America are called PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, or TOP HAT. It’s the law. 

I got the gig coz I was a size 38 regular so any tux off the rack would fit me. And, funnily enough, the ad called for me to wear 38 different tuxedos while reciting the same spiel 38 times and using identical vocal inflections and identical hand gestures.

“Hey, come on down to PUTTIN‘ ON THE RITZ and we’ll put a ritzy tuxedo on you!”

Then thanks to “state of the art” circa-1975 video editing, it appeared that all 38 tuxes changed on my body as if by magic. (Stanley Kubrick eat your heart out!) 

1970s pink tuxedo
Right color, wrong fabric.

Now, mind you, this was the mid-1970s aka the decade style forgot. (Do you remember that unfortunate 1940s fashion revival, or the dreadful Liza Minnelli in Cabaret look? Or, how ‘bout those “street urchin, shoe shine boy” get-ups? What the fuck were people thinking?)  So, true to the fashion zeitgeist, all 38 tuxes were made of crushed velvet. (It gets worse.) Crushed velvet in lime green, shocking pink, powder blue, canary yellow and zebra stripes. (Wait, there’s more.) The cut of the jacket, ruffled shirt and massive bow tie suggested a Mississippi River boat gambler. Sort of Yancey Derringer on a bad day. 

1970s yellow tuxedo jacket
The cut is close but where’s the crushed velvet?
1970s plaid tuxedo jacket
Again, close but no cigar. No crushed velvet either!

The owner of the shop was nervously watching the shoot and the clock. But, I was a fast line learner and more importantly a fast clothes changer so he took a liking to me. While adjusting one especially vomitus jacket on my person, he confided in reverent, hushed tone, “Jackie Boy, this is our most popular cut. We call it the Tony Orlando.”    

album cover for The Best of Tony Orlando & Dawn
From Fred Astaire to Tony Orlando. And, you tell me, over and over and over again, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Being seen on TV, even just late-night, local TV, made me a local celebrity. All the decrepit old ladies living in the decrepit old apartment building we actors called home treated me like I was a movie star and argued over whether I was more handsome in blushing peach or midnight purple. 

And, the married couples who made up most of our audiences were also ritzy dressers. They favored the matching he/she leisure suits that were then all the rage; matching leisure suits in lime green, shocking pink, powder blue, canary yellow, blushing peach, midnight purple and (yes) zebra stripes. Anytime I had to look directly at the audience, I put on welder’s goggles!

Vintage 1970s ad for leisure suits
The leisure suits came in crushed velvet, too.
Available at J.C. Penney and Sears.

Ahhh, the 1970s in America! ya had to be there!

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