It was the summer of 1982, not quite two years after Lisa Birnbach wrote “The Official Preppy Handbook,” and I got a call from my agent in New York. After several rounds of auditions, I (then known as Susan Dow) was cast in “Preppies” and was rehearsing at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.
The show was being directed by Pete Masterson, a fellow Texan, and straight off of his hit “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” His oldest daughter, Lexi, was in the show and his younger daughter who was still in high school would come and visit on the weekends. I don’t think any of us would have guessed Lexi’s baby sister would go on to be the movie star Mary Stuart Masterson. After performing the show for future backers, our four weeks were up we said our goodbyes and headed back to Manhattan.
Twelve whole months would pass before I got another call from my agent informing me that they were now ready to do “Preppies” Off-Broadway. Of course nothing is easy in show business, and my agent informed me that the show had a brand new director/choreographer named Tony Tanner, and we would all be required to audition for him. After singing and dancing several times, I was cast as Lallie deForest. I was more than surprised to learn that I was the only one from the workshop that had been cast in this new production.
Some fun little tidbits about “Preppies” are that the music was written by a very young Gary Portnoy, best known for writing the theme song to the hit TV show “Cheers.” The cast, of course, was in head-to-toe madras and Lily Pulitzer, had taps attached to our Top-Siders, and even did a number in the show with flippers on our feet. You can find copies of both the script and cast album on eBay, and I understand that “Preppies” is quite popular with high school drama departments.
I always thought that our producer, Anthony Fingleton, was a true blue-blood preppy, but I did a little research to refresh my memory and discovered that Tony came from quite humble beginnings in Australia. But he did go to Harvard, and that probably counts for something.
I would love to wrap this story up with a wonderful opening night, rave reviews and a long run, but that isn’t the way this show turned out. “Preppies” received less-than-stellar reviews and closed within a matter of weeks.
But great things did come from being in “Preppies.” I made and remain friends with most of the cast. We all got along, which I will tell you is quite rare. The saddest thing about closing was not being able to laugh every day with those funny and talented actors. I became best friends with fellow castmate, Karyn Quackenbush, and two years later she would set me up on a blind date with a guy named Scott Bartlett.
Scott and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and have two terrific sons. — SUSAN BARTLETT
Susan Bartlett — we kid you not — makes preppy clothes for dogs and sells them on Etsy (where she also occasionally sells vintage menswear). Her son Sam, a jazz pianist, graduates from SMU this spring and can be seen here performing the classic “Straight, No Chaser.”
Last evening I was taking a golf lesson at Brooks Brothers when a vacationing gentleman stopped by to check out the high-tech simulator.
By a happy accident it turned out to be a former executive for Marks & Spencer, the English department-store chain that bought Brooks in 1988 and went about dismantling it, starting with the staircase.
The gent was one of the M&S guys who was sent to New York to manage Brooks. When I told him I would be very interested in interviewing him, specifically noting with a wry smile that my readers consider Marks & Spencer the devil incarnate, he didn’t exactly say yes but he didn’t say no either. His wife encouraged him but perhaps he’s enjoying his retirement and would rather talk about golf. He has my card, so we’ll see.
He did, however, offer a gentle defense of Marks & Spencer’s strategy at the time by saying that there was a joke among the management team that whenever a hearse went by they’d say, “There goes another customer.” They believed they were losing customers faster than they were being replaced and had to do something to save the company. Their efforts failed, of course, and they ended up selling the company at a loss.
The gentleman, who resides in London and was visiting New York for the holidays, did offer one more interesting anecdote. In the ’80s there was still plenty of old-school snobbery among the sales staff, he said, who wouldn’t wait on somebody if he didn’t look right. One particular guy, who was “fat and sweaty,” eventually took his case all the way to the company president, saying that he wanted to be a Brooks customer but never felt welcomed in the store. The president ended up waiting on him personally and the man turned out to be the company’s number-one customer, spending tens of thousands of dollars annually.
Snooty salespeople are more charming in theory than practice, and I’m very happy to have a regular guy on the third floor to ring up my purchases. He knows my name and always has a friendly smile, even when I just pop in to grab the driver and make a bunch of noise. — CC
When madras season officially opened on Memorial Day, we ran a post showing George HW Bush clad in a madras sportcoat in company that wasn’t exactly wearing the same (can you imagine Obama or Romney doing that in 2012?) Now that July 4th marks our deeper descent into madras, this time we show the fabric in an equally unexpected context: on the backs of British pop stars. (Continue)
Update, 3 July, 10:04 AM:
Last night Ivy Style crossed the 10,000-comment threshold with these infamous words that will echo across America this summer as families pile up the station wagon and head out on the road:
Are we there yet?
The comment was left by none other than regular reader Henry, who will finally be rewarded for years of faithful interaction.
Leave one more comment with your real email address, Henry, so I can make sure the IP addresses match. Wouldn’t want the loot to go to one of your sparring partners pretending to be you. — CC
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Ivy-Style.com is rapidly approaching its 10,000th comment. As a way of saying thank you for the interaction and entertainment that our comments section provides, I’m arranging for one lucky reader to get a pile of loot donated by our sponsors.
Here’s how it will work. Sometime over the next couple of weeks — depending on how worked up you guys get — we’ll cross the ten thousand threshold. The person to leave comment number 10,000 — after all spam and petty nastiness has been expunged, of course — wins.
So you might want to leave a valid email address when you comment, at least for the time being.
And while it’s true that the winner may be one of the usual suspects in our perennial Left vs. Right and US vs. UK kerfuffles, at least everyone has an equal chance of winning, regardless of ideology.
After all, anyone can wear buttondowns and penny loafers. — CC
Update: Here is a confirmed alphabetical list of the prizes so far, which have a combined value of $1,425: (Continue)
To those who complain that slim-fit shirts are evidence of Brooks Brothers having lost its way, the brethren have offered them for at least 25 years, as this late ’80s catalog shows.
In general, WASPy preppy types have preferred a generous cut to their clothing, and the sack suit got its name for a reason. But “Take Ivy” shows that the Ivy League Look had plenty of streamlined cuts in keeping with the general fashion of the early ’60s.
So shirts that actually fit — especially slender guys — may be a tad less tradly but certainly aren’t heresy. — CC
Note: This post was composed by a slender guy with a diplomatic temperament wearing a full-cut oxford under a fitted pink sweater.
We always consider it newsy when Ethan up at O’Connell’s digs up some deadstock items that have been buried for decades.
Earlier this summer, in an act of unselfishness, Ethan decided to start sharing his special hoard of Troy Guild shirts from the early ’80s. These aren’t your typical oxford-cloth buttondowns: The shirts are made from luxurious Sea Island cotton and are priced at $245 a pop.
Ethan tells us the following:
Troy Guild made these in Glens Falls, NY. This Sea Island cotton was superior to the stuff that was out there through the ’90s. It wasn’t regulated, and most of it tended to originate from the Middle East. It was a shorter staple cotton, closer to a thin Egyptian cotton.
The good Sea Island cotton from the early ’80s came from the West Indies and was a much finer and longer staple strain of cotton. It hasn’t been made in Sea Island for around 80 years, give or take.
Anyway, these are really fantastic new old-stock shirts. I’ve known of these for a long time but haven’t dug into them much — except to stock my own closet.
There are about 100 shirts remaining, so grab them while you can. As with most things, they don’t make them like they used to. — CC