We’ve all heard of Maury Wills. But what about Mary Wills?
Mary Wills, it turns out, was a big deal in the world of costume design, where she worked on dozens of movies, earning seven Oscar nominations (she won for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, in 1962). Some of her original sketches are in the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
None of which would be of any interest to us if not for the fact that Mary Wills had some strong opinions about sports uniforms. Or at least she did in April of 1963, when the Associated Press ran this story about her, which reader Marc Viquez recently brought to my attention (click to enlarge):
It’s slightly difficult to read, so here’s a transcription:
SEATTLE (AP) ”” Mary Wills is appalled at the uniform uniformity in the stodgy world of sports and would love to lead the revolution.
“Why can’t the halfbacks wear different colored uniforms” she asked. “All football players look alike and I can never tell who’s got the ball.
“I’m so so serious about the need for modernizing sports uniforms, I would tackle the job for nothing.”
Miss Wills is not just another feminine fan tossing in a nickel’s worth of chatter. She won the motion picture Academy of Arts Oscar this year for the best costume design in color. She designs for the movies, for television, and for the Ice Follies.
“The rules of sports change, but not the uniforms,” she protested Thursday during a visit to Seattle.
“Football has made a few minor advances in materials but baseball still dresses in the Gay Nineties. Perhaps that’s one reason interest has faded in many cities and so many minor league teams have folded. Young people have lost interest in baseball because they can’t identify themselves with the colorless flannel knickers of the long, long ago.”
She was reminded of Fred Haney’s bold experiment about a dozen years ago when he dressed his baseball players in shorts. Now general manager of the Los Angeles Angels, Haney then was field boss of the Pacific Coast League Hollywood Stars.
“Wonderful!” she said. “But what happened? Was tradition so strong that everybody had to go back to those hot flannels? We have light nylons now that breathe. Our skaters [in the Ice Follies] wear metallic materials that are light and tough. Their colors would brighten up baseball’s dark corner.
“I know a project like this would face bitter opposition from the conservative, tradition-bound sports people. It would take a lot of research so we would not overdo color and comfort at the expense of safety and utility.
“Sports are dramatic and exciting but people tire of the same drab uniforms year after year. This is business much akin to show business and deserves dramatic and exciting uniforms.”
In private life she is Mrs. Leonard Doss of Hollywood. As Mary Wills she has designed costumes for Pat Boone, Richard Burton, Elvis Presley, and other stars ”” but not for halfbacks or shortstops.
“For several years I was so busy I didn’t get to attend sports events and I came back to baseball expecting many colorful changes.
“Ugh!” said Mary Wills.
Fifty-four years later, it’s remarkable how much of this article still rings true today:
• For better or worse, football and baseball uniforms are still very similar to what they were in 1963. The materials have changed, obviously, and so has some of the tailoring (no more sleeves for football, most baseball players now going low-cuffed), but the basic formats are largely unchanged.
• There’s still a push-pull between people who advocate pushing the uni-design envelope (often citing youth appeal as their justification, just as Wills did) and those who reject such changes and prefer to stick with more traditional looks. This tug of war frequently centers around the use of color, as seen in the recent debates over the brightly colored MLB Players Weekend uniforms, the monochromatic Thursday-night NFL uniforms, the rise of color-vs.-color NBA games, and the rise of neon colors.
• Sports is now increasingly associated with show business and the entertainment and lifestyle industries, just as Wills predicted. It’s no accident or coincidence that the most important sports-related and showbiz-related business deals of the past month are one and the same.
(As for football players wearing different uniforms according to their positions, that hasn’t happened — although the WFL did experiment with that concept in 1975.)
With all that in mind, here’s a question: Will we be having these same discussions in another 54 years (or even just 24)? Will the forces of outlandishness and traditionalism always at war within the uni-verse? Or is it a foregone conclusion that the boundaries of conventional uniform design are bound to start expanding more rapidly over the next few years?
Before you answer, keep in mind that MLB made an attempt to modernize in the 1970s and ’80s — pullovers and sansabelts, powder blues on the road, tequila sunrise, etc. (all of which Wills no doubt loved, assuming she was still paying attention at that point) — but then retreated back to a more conservative approach by the early 1990s. Similarly, the NBA and NHL both went through “wacky” design phases in the 1990s but soon returned to more conventional approaches.
(Big thanks to Marc Viquez for bringing the Mary Wills article to my attention.)
’Skins Watch: “A petition is underway to get students and fans of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in New Jersey to stop wearing gear with the school’s old Native American mascot, which was retired by the school in 2004,” says Michael Romero. “Naturally, there is also a counter-petition to have the school reinstate the Native American logo.”
Baseball News: The Yankees are ignoring the growing calls for them to extend the netting at Yankee Stadium. … New extracurricular activity at Dodger Stadium: Frisbee golf (from @MyBees). … Good article about New Era (from Spencer Norris). … Love this old Nestlé Quik ad showing Steve Garvey in a Padres uniform with his own signature as a sleeve patch (from the great BSmile, pointed out to me by Phil). … New 25th-season logo for the West Michigan Whitecaps. … The Giants celebrated manager Bruce Bochy’s 900th victory by giving him a No. 900 jersey (thanks, Brinke). … The new college summer league team in Macon, Ga., will be called the Macon Bacon. Sorry, but the Macon Whoopie will never be topped (from Steve Vibert). … The Cubs wore New Era-branded goggles for their clubhouse celebration yesterday. So did the Twins. “Lame,” says Jimmy Lonetti.
NFL News: Pats coach Bill Belichick wore his cut-off sweatshirt over a dress shirt at yesterday’s presser (from @peskys_pole). … Here’s a video of the Packers’ seamstresses preparing the team’s Thursday-night uniforms (from Dave Rakowski). … The Ravens will go mono-black this Sunday (from Andrew Cosentino). … From the current PBS documentary series on Vietnam, here’s an American military helicopter with the old Cowboys logo (from Stephen in DC). … Several members of the New York City Council went to the steps outside City Hall yesterday and kneeled alongside a Colin Kaepernick jersey. Additional info here (from the Tugboat Captain). … As reported in yesterday’s Ticker, the Falcons will be wearing 1990s fauxbacks this Sunday. Promo pics for that game show them wearing jerseys with the old Reebok template, which they had been wearing up until this season. Will be interesting to see what they actually wear on the field.
College and High Football News: A school administrator in New Jersey has resigned after being caught selling bootleg football T-shirts (thanks, Alex). … Also from Alex: Looks like the last image we’ll have of suspended Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino will be of him wearing a Louisville football jersey. … Rare sight this weekend, as LSU will be wearing purple (from Rex Henry). … Duke will be wearing a devil’s head helmet and mono-GFGS this week (from @taroontino). … Here’s a look at Baylor’s bear logos through the years (from Ryan Patrick). … Penn State’s throwback uniforms this weekend will include TV numbers on the helmets (from María Canales). … In a related item, here’s an article with more info on the Penn State throwbacks, including info on what the equipment staff and grounds crew are doing for the game (from Joe Werner). … Stanford will have a green ribbon helmet decal for sexual assault awareness this weekend (from Joey Friedman). … Here’s this week’s uni combo for Virginia Tech (from Andrew Cosentino).
Hockey News: I’m still calling it the Aud. … A list of NHL teams’ Pantone colors from 1991? Sure, why not (from @Steve_May). … See that striping on the OHL’s Barrie Colts’ pants? That’s new for this year, according to Wade Heidt. … Here’s a piece on how the Predators got their logo (thanks, Alex).
NBA News: Here’s a piece on why Clippers F Brice Johnson is going back to wearing No. 11 (rare non-UNC submission from James Gilbert). … Dwyane Wade will wear No. 9 for the Cavs. Rookie Cedi Osman, who had been slated to wear that number, will pick a new one (from Mike Chamernik).
College Hoops News: Cross-listed from the college football section: Looks like the last image we’ll have of suspended Louisville coach Rick Pitino will be of him wearing a Louisville football jersey (thanks, Alex). … Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich was also put on administrative leave yesterday. He has a nice little bonus scandal brewing in addition to the FBI charges involving Louisville, as follows: Shortly before the school extended its contract with Adidas — a 10-year, $160 million deal announced last month — Adidas hired Jurich’s daughter as an “NCAA brand communications manager.” Uh-huh (from James Gilbert). … In a related item, here’s a really good piece on how the shoe companies basically run college hoops via their AAU leagues and other youth circuits. Key quote, from a guy who scouts young players: “You might think it’s unhealthy, for the shoe companies to have such influence in the recruiting process — it has sort of replaced high school in spring and summer, and taken power out of the hands of the high school coaches — but that’s the way it goes.” Greeeaaat. … New 50th-anniversary arena patch for Purdue (from Patrick O’Donnell). … Phonetic coincidence: New uniforms for Samford and Stanford (from B.J. Millican and Joey Friedman, respectively).
Soccer News: Celtic will wear a patch this weekend to commemorate the Great Hunger (from Ed Żelaski). … Last night’s game between NYC FC and the Montreal Impact had both teams wearing blue. “Someone needed to bring their change kit,” says Mike Styczen. … French fashion designer Koché’s spring-summer collection is inspired by the Paris Saint Germain soccer team kit (from Chema Martínez Muñoz).
Grab Bag: “Simon Fraser University is based in Burnaby, British Columbia,” says Wade Heidt. “However, it differs from other Canadian universities as its sports teams participate in the NCAA. All competition is from U.S. schools. The school’s teams use the nickname Clan, which is to honor the Scottish heritage of the school’s namesake. But there’s some concern that the name evokes a different kind of ‘clan’ to U.S. schools, especially in light of recent events, so a professor has been lobbying to have the name changed.” … Two Chicago police officers have been reprimanded for kneeling in protest while in uniform. The department’s rules prohibit “participating in any partisan political campaign or activity.” Earlier this year, another officer was reprimanded for wearing one of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” caps. … Interesting Aussie rules football situation, as our own Jamie Rathjen explains: “The Grand Final between Adelaide and Richmond is this weekend. The AFL told Richmond to wear its clash jumper to avoid a black vs. dark blue matchup. That led a former player to go on an angry rant in which he implied it’s a marketing thing and that Richmond should wear its first choice anyway, which would apparently result in a fine.” … I’m still calling it the Klipsch Music Center (from Jarrod Campbell). … I love this collection of proposed new punctuation marks (from my pal Rob Walker).