• July 19, 2024

Bob Mackie created the image of Thelma Harper, but a small twist from Vicki Lawrence brought the whole look together

The hair. The pearls. The dress. The glasses. One iconic character: Thelma Mae Crowley Harper.

She is the glue of the Harper family and head of the household on Mama’s Family. From her loud but often sound advice to her blatant but hilarious insults, Mama didn’t have an ounce of shame in her body. She spoke what was on her mind and didn’t let anyone, especially anyone in the family, get her down.

The character of Mama, according to the actress that played her, Vicki Lawrence, is familiar in several ways. Her getup is one of them. Going for the stereotypical “grandma” look was certainly the right call for legendary fashion designer Bob Mackie, who handled wardrobes for Mama’s Family.

Mackie is known for his 11-year run creating costumes for the entire cast of The Carol Burnett Show, which is where “The Family” skits originated before they became a spinoff series. From the first outfit during the first skit, Lawrence knew Mama’s look was spot on.

“I got completely dressed,” Lawrence said during a 2011 interview with Television Academy. “[Bob] stepped aside and I looked into the mirror and I remember going, ‘good Lord, I’m dysfunctional,'” she said with a hint of Mama’s twang at the end of the sentence. “It was perfect, head to toe.”

Lawrence said Mackie, who might be best known for creating the “Went with the Wind” costume on Carol Burnett, created the entire image of Mama with one small exception.

“The only thing I did was to mush the socks down because it reminded me of my own grandma who’s [from] southern Missouri, who’s just right down there perilously close to where we’re talking about,” Lawrence said in Mama’s voice.

Generally speaking, it usually takes an actor or actress more time to get dressed as their character than it does in a normal setting. That wasn’t the case for Vicki Lawrence when it came to her Thelma Harper character.

“It takes me much longer to look like Vicki, it’s much more work,” Lawrence said with a chuckle. When the show was all over, Lawrence said she needed to do some shopping.

“By the time we ended Mama’s Family as a series, I was down to literally no makeup,” she said. Apparently, when dressing up as Thelma Harper is the day to day, it takes its toll.

“I feel like I was the only actress in town [that heard] ‘we’re getting ready to shoot, go get ugly,” Lawrence laughed.

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