Jack Lemmon as Stanley Ford, comic strip artist and dedicated bachelor
New York City, Summer 1964
Film: How to Murder Your Wife
Release Date: September 20, 1965
Director: Richard Quine
Wardrobe: Izzy Berne & Marie Osborne
Happy birthday to Jack Lemmon, a class act and one of my all-time favorite actors.
One of the first Jack Lemmon movies I had ever seen was the problematically titled How to Murder Your Wife, a VHS tape belonging to my grandma that she had I must have watched a dozen times during my childhood. Lemmon played Stanley Ford, an artist dedicated to two things: his espionage comic strip Bash Brannigan and remaining an unattached bachelor. The latter ambition is quelled during a drunken stag party when he meets and immediately marries a beautiful blonde stripper (Virna Lisi) who, as luck would have it, doesn’t know a word of English.
Charles: Good God. Doesn’t speak English? And yet, on the other hand, if one will go around marrying persons who pop out of cakes, it’s bound to be, well, rather catch as catch can, isn’t it, sir?
While it doesn’t quite sound like the sort of fare that may appeal to an eight-year-old, I related to Stanley’s artistry process. Before drawing his comic strips, Stanley enlists a small troupe of actors to accompany him and his distinguished, dedicated valet Charles (Terry-Thomas) in their blue Lincoln Continental convertible as Stanley acts out Bash’s various adventures throughout New York City… much to the chagrin of Stanley’s beleaguered lawyer Harold (Eddie Mayehoff).
What’d He Wear?
Stanley: Bash Brannigan, Secret Agent is syndicated in 463 newspapers. You know why?
Harold: Sure, I know. Because it’s hardcore pornography, softened slightly – ever so slightly – by excessive violence and sadism!
Stanley: Bash Brannigan is enjoyed by millions because my readers know it’s absolutely authentic! I’d never ask Bash to do anything I hadn’t already done myself!
Not only does Stanley act out his fictional creation’s exploits, he has to look the part, dressing in Bash Brannigan’s established outfit of a checked jacket, dark turtleneck, shoulder holster, and fedora.
Stanley begins slipping into his Bash Brannigan persona with his base layer of a black cotton turtleneck jumper tucked into a pair of dark gray wool trousers. The black turtleneck has been revered by fictional agents from James Bond to Sterling Archer, who dubbed his own “tactile-neck” when donning the garment for secret missions.
The “Bash” turtleneck appears to be a lightweight jersey-knit cotton with a high roll-neck and set-in sleeves with elasticized cuffs.
Charles hands Stanley his holster, a tanned leather rig that straps over both shoulders with the holster itself under his left armpit. The shoulder rig hangs freely without fastening to his dark gray wool trousers as they have a fitted waistband with no belt and no trouser side-tabs. The flat front trousers fit straight through his legs to the plain-hemmed, short-break bottoms.
Once Stanley has the holster in place, Charles helps him into Bash’s signature jacket, a single-breasted sportcoat in black-and-cream “puppytooth” (or mini houndstooth) check.
The jacket has narrow clover-notch lapels that roll to a single-button front, and the jacket’s open quarters dramatically cut away below the buttoning point. Stanley may have chosen this particular jacket for the ease of drawing its minimalist aesthetic as it has no breast pocket and only a single button on each cuff. The jacket’s gently slanted flapped hip pockets are placed below the buttoning point, and the short double vents are consistent with mid-’60s styling.
By the mid-1960s, JFK had already established himself as the “hatless” president and the concept of a man’s daily hat was rapidly falling out of fashion. Stanley Ford doesn’t wear one in his normal life, but a fedora is essential to the image of his old-fashioned bastion of American masculinity, Bash Brannigan. When venturing out as Bash, Stanley wears a gray felt short-brimmed fedora with a black grosgrain ribbon.
Stanley wears a his normal wristwatch, a gold dress watch similar to the popular Gruen Precision with a silver dial on a black leather strap.
Bash’s shoes are black calf leather derbies, worn with black socks.
What to Imbibe
Stanley’s dedication to his craft is well-rewarded at the end of each day with a Vodka Martini, which his “man” Charles pours into a crystal glass which, as Charles assures the audience, has been in the refrigerator all day to ensure that it should be “properly chilled” by 7:00 that evening.
Stanley Ford likely chose this outfit for Bash Brannigan for aesthetic and practical reasons; it reflects the “secret agent” image at the height of ’60s Bondmania, and it would be easy yet interesting to draw with its minimalist details.
- Black-and-cream puppytooth check single-button sportcoat with narrow clover-notch lapels, flapped hip pockets, single-button cuffs, and short double vents
- Black lightweight cotton jersey-knit turtleneck jumper
- Dark gray wool flat front trousers with fitted waistband, slanted side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Tanned leather shoulder holster
- Black calf leather derby shoes
- Black socks
- Gray felt short-brimmed fedora with wide black grosgrain ribbon
- Gold dress watch with silver dial on black leather strap
Stanley Ford’s attention to detail includes his somewhat dangerous habit of carrying Bash Brannigan’s sidearm of choice, a blued Colt Detective Special with custom stag grips, while acting out Bash’s scenarios. One imagines – or hopes! – that it’s loaded with blank ammunition as he frequently fires it at his fellow actors.
The Detective Special was introduced by Colt in 1927 as part of its first generation of police-oriented revolvers, which also included the fuller size Official Police. The Detective Special quickly gained popularity on both sides of the law as a powerful yet easily concealable “belly gun” with its 2″ barrel and six-round cylinder for the venerable .38 Special ammunition.
It’s a classic piece for a classic “hero” like Bash Brannigan with the stag grips adding just the right aesthetic level of individuality to make our protagonist stand out on the black-and-white pages of 463 newspapers across the United States.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
When he actually sits down to sketch Bash’s adventures, Stanley slips into a white cotton crew-neck sweatshirt emblazoned with his gun-toting, fedora-wearing hero’s face framed by his own name.
The “Bash Brannigan Official Sweatshirt” is surely a more comfortable alternative once the artiste begins putting on weight from three heavy home-cooked Italian meals every day.