Recently, I was lucky enough to acquire my third exciting original piece from Andy Kaufman’s personal wardrobe. His very first Elvis Presley costume!
In 1999, I bought one of Andy’s “Heartbeeps” costumes on eBay, and then purchased the matching bowtie and puppet head from separate Profiles in History auctions later on. In 2000 I purchased his famous performance stage costume…the one he wore when he performed his Carnegie Hall show, “Saturday Night Live,” his ABC TV special, and countless TV shows and live appearances. And now, Andy’s original Elvis costume was the perfect addition to my set!
Underneath the prosthetics of the Stan Winston-made “Heartbeeps” puppet head was Andy’s full head lifecast. I copied it and transformed two mannequins into lifelike Andy Kaufman displays. In addition to the performance costume and “Heartbeeps” costume, I made a Tony Clifton mannequin with replica wardrobe that matched what Andy wore as the infamous lounge singer back in the 70’s.
In order to create a lifelike Andy/Elvis mannequin, I once again called upon my friend Jim Ojala who had done such amazing work with other displays in Planet Wallywood. Jim’s gifts with make-up and special effects is unsurpassed. But the facial expression in the lifemask was Andy’s trademark bug-eyed deadpan look. It worked perfectly for my other 3 mannequins, but it wasn’t appropriate for an Elvis mannequin. So Jim consulted with my pal Ruben Procopio, an amazingly gifted artist, animator, and sculptor. From the Kaufman mold, Jim created a copy of Andy’s lifemask in a soft clay-like substance. That way Ruben could resculpt Andy’s features into his trademark Elvis face, but he needed reference photos.
I dug out the DVDs for “Saturday Night Live’s” second season, the Johnny Cash Christmas special from 1979, and an episode of “The Midnight Special” that featured Andy Kaufman as the guest host. All those shows featured Andy doing his groundbreaking Elvis impersonation. I needed to get some good screenshots of Andy turning into Elvis Presley for Ruben’s reference. He had a certain look on his face when turned around to reveal himself that I wanted to capture. His heavy-lidded, sneering smile would be interpreted by Ruben in a new, modified Andy Kaufman lifecast.
I was successful in getting about 35 screenshots of Andy doing Elvis from the DVDs. I sent the best 10 to Ruben via e-mail and he got started sculpting. When he’s finished, Jim will make another mold of that lifecast, so he can create a “positive” in fiberglass which will be attached to the mannequin bearing Andy’s Elvis costume. Then glass eyes will be added, hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and sideburns. Oh! Don’t forget the chest hair! Then it will all be painted very lifelike and the costume will go on display in my Planet Wallywood collection!
The Elvis costume is about 37 years old and shows some signs of wear and age. Since it’s made of a wool gabardine fabric, there are a few “moth” holes in the costume which will need to be delicately patched by my seamstress Kathy Pillsbury. She’s going to isolate each hole and measure the size. Then she’ll punch similar sized pieces of the fabric from the costume’s inside seam allowances, which you’ll never see. She’ll transplant the small circles of fabric into the moth holes, and reinforce the back of the fabric gently so the patches will be virtually indiscernible.
Legend has it that Andy commissioned this costume from Elvis’ costume designer Bill Belew. It’s said that Andy used an advance payment he received for an upcoming “SNL” appearance to pay for the costume. Mr. Belew told Andy he would repair Elvis’ costumes on a regular basis, and some of the mirror appliqués would fall off from time to time. He told Andy that he would take some of those appliqués that had fallen off of Elvis’ costumes, and put them on Andy’s. This thrilled Andy beyond belief! The costume has strips of female Velcro running down the sides of the legs. If you recall Andy’s act, he would strip off the pieces of Velcro to reveal the mirror appliqués running down the legs. Then he would take off the shirt and tie dickey and his sport jacket, revealing the rest of the Elvis costume underneath. Pure comedy magic!
Eventually, I’d like to have room enough in my house to display all four Andy Kaufman mannequins together. Kind of like a “Many Faces of Andy Kaufman” exhibit! It would be great to get a pair of Andy’s original white coveralls from “Taxi,” but I’m not sure that will ever be possible.
I recently went over to Ruben’s house to look at the tweak he did on Andy’s lifecast. He lowered the eyelids and raised the right side of his lip into an Elvis sneer. I made a few comments about some possible adjustments, and Ruben’s going to take a few weeks and work on them. It looked awesome!!
Not only did Kathy Pillsbury bring over the repaired costume on June 22nd, but I got the finished sculpt from Ruben Procopio. Jim Ojala took the sculpt into his possession and then began casting it to make a negative mold. Then the head will be run in fiberglass and attached to my mannequin body.
Kathy did an amazing job repairing the
costume. The tiny moth holes all over the costume are no longer
visible. She took tiny pieces of the wool gabardine fabric from
inside the costume; from the lining and seam allowances. Then she
“plugged” the pieces into the holes meticulously, and ironed on a
backing to keep them in place. It turned out looking fabulous!
Jim has molded Ruben's sculpture with silicone and a stone shell. The amazing sculpture was destroyed during the casting process, but as you can see the impression came out amazingly well!
Next, Jim will lay up fiberglass in the silicone mold. Then he'll pull it, trim it and clean it and attach it to the mannequin. Then he'll have to paint it, and add chest hair, eyebrows, glass eyes, eyelashes, sideburns and a wig.
Jim finished casting the modified Andy lifecast by
Ruben Procopio, and it turned out great in
fiberglass. He’ll finish trimming open the eyeholes
and painting it with primer in preparation for the
final paint job and addition of glass eyes.
After a few weeks, Jim brought over the finalized torso and hands. This one was particularly tricky, because of the cut of the costume, the seam where the head attaches to the body had to be absolutely flawless and undetectable! Jim did a superb job! The chest hair was perfect, and he had also added eyebrows by hand. Now all that is left is for Sergio to add the wig and sideburns, and Andy/Elvis will be complete!
As my "hair guy" Sergio Lopez" begins the hairing
process on Andy/Elvis, he starts by laying parts of
a wig onto the mannequin's head. Once all the wig
pieces have been attached, he'll lay individual
hairs in by hand along the hairline to make it look
Sergio Lopez stopped by and finessed the hair into
style! Now Andy's complete! A great job all around
to all of the artists who contributed their talents
to this project. To them I can only say...
Dank you veddy much!