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

Lawrence added one tiny adjustment to the fierce look, but it's one that you can notice in almost every episode.

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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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5 Comments

MicheLeChicAgo 16 months ago
No disrespect, i Used to watch Mama's Family when the show was on network TV in prime time, and I was young. I don't watch now, and also no longer watch The Carol Burnett show, for the same reason. I find both shows loud snd obnoxious . For Mamas Family especially, I think I don't watch now could be due to the Harper's t
constant loud bickering reminds me of the chaos of my own family back then .Maybe THATS why we watched it then, we could identify and feel our messed up family was normal.
Adanor 16 months ago
So what is it about mushed socks? Is it more comfortable? Was that during a time when the quality of socks wasn't that great and they naturally mushed down? And Across the Pond, Nora Batty on "Last of the Summer Wine" was known for her "wrinkled stockings." So Roy Clarke, the writer of this show, when he was knee high to a grasshopper, must of spent lots of time observing those "wrinkled stockings." The hallmark of an age when women had mushed socks or wrinkled stockings. Not fashion forward, but fashion comfortable.
LoveMETV22 16 months ago
If MeTV ever wished to do a fashion story, Bob Mackie would be the perfect choice. Not only did he design the wardrobe for Mamas Family and The Carol Burnett Show. He has an impressive resume that goes well beyond those two series.
His designs were amazing to perfection with actresses, actors, comedy characters and singers back then. I agree they should do a fashion story on him. The Carol Burnett show is a classic example with his awesome costumes
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