Ben Gazzara as Jackie Treehorn in The Big Lebowski
Ben Gazzara as Jackie Treehorn, smooth pornography mogul
Malibu, California, Fall 1991
Film: The Big Lebowski
Release Date: March 6, 1998
Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Costume Designer: Mary Zophres
Jeff Bridges’ slacker at the heart of The Big Lebowski may not rank in the pantheon of style icons like Grant, McQueen, Newman, or Poitier oft cited in discussions of the best movie menswear, but Mary Zophres’ costume design in this cult classic from the Coen brothers is an exemplar in the power of using costume to establish character.
In addition to the Dude in his hoodies, shorts, and jelly sandals (as well as that cowichan cardigan!), we have the aggressive survivalist Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) whose gonzo-esque yellow-tinted aviators, fishing vest, and combat boots suggest that he’s the type of guy to keep a loaded .45 in his bowling bag even before he draws it. Bowling-obsessed Donny (Steve Buscemi) has an array of bowling shirts in every color to suit his favorite sport, super-assistant Brandt (Philip Seymour Hoffman) looks the part in his off-the-peg Brooks Brothers, and the millionaire Lebowski (David Huddleston)—ahem, the Big Lebowski—dresses to achieve in his business suits by day and opulent smoking jackets by night. Also worthy of mention is the tight purple jumpsuit worn by Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), which tells and unfortunately shows all we may have guessed about the convicted pederast.
While most of these characters are introduced as we meet them, powerful porn producer Jackie Treehorn stands out as an exception, receiving a degree of in-universe mythology as the enigmatic center who may hold the key to the film’s mysterious MacGuffin. As a result, we may already have a sense of what we expect Jackie to look like by the time Ben Gazzara steps from the shadows to greet the Dude at his Malibu beach party. (Gazzara, who was born 90 years ago this month on August 28, 1930, played the role to charismatic perfection, blending sinister charm with just enough offbeat mischief neatly suited to a Coen brothers joint.)
Jackie Treehorn’s brief but pivotal appearance illustrates how effective The Big Lebowski is at coordinating costume design, production design, soundtrack, and more to evoke mood. The screenplay itself sets the scene as “a party, lit by festive beach lights and standing kerosene heaters… 1960s mainstream jazz, of the Mancini-Brubeck school, has been piped down to speakers on the beach.” The scene continues into Jackie’s impossibly cool home, filmed in the Sheats-Goldstein residence that had been designed in the early ’60s by iconic architect John Lautner and thus the sort of abode where you’d expect to hear a steady stream of exotica from the hi-fi, whether it be Yma Sumac’s operatic soprano or Henry Mancini’s experimentations with the metallophone. (In addition to the three tracks heard in the film, I added Cy Coleman’s thematically appropriate “Playboy’s Theme” to the playlist below.)
Jackie Treehorn greets the Dude—and us—by stepping away from his hedonistic beach gathering; it’s telling that what Jackie calls a “garden party” is a bonfire-lit bonanza complete with Peruvian exotica and topless women being blanket-tossed into the air. He leads the Dude into his “completely unspoiled” pad, pontificating on the effect of video on the falling standards of pornography with a monologue that mirrors the philosophy of the similarly named adult entertainment magnate Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) in the previous year’s Boogie Nights.
Before the Dude can glean anything useful from the conversation, Jackie is summoned to the phone, where he jots down a brief note and excuses himself. Having grown genre-savvy since taking on the case of the kidnapped porn star, the Dude swiftly leaps up and rubs a pencil over the indentation on Jackie’s notepad, though even he is nonplussed by what the shading reveals…
While the Dude may have been genre-savvy enough to follow the investigative examples of Bulldog Drummond or Cary Grant in North by Northwest, his thirst outweighs caution as he willingly accepts a second White Russian from the acclaimed producer of Logjammin’ once he re-enters the room… only for the Dude to fall prey to that frequent pulp predicament of succumbing to a Mickey Finn slipped into his drink.
Indeed, Jackie does “mix a hell of a caucasian.”
What’d He Wear?
The screenplay introduces Jackie Treehorn as follows:
A man walks towards the camera through the pools of beach light. He is handsome, fiftyish, wearing cotton twill pants and a Turnbull & Asher[sic] shirt with a foulard knotted at the neck. Behind him, the woman rises and falls, appears and disappears.
Evidently, the Coens had envisioned Jackie as more of a dashing rake, clad in somewhat affected sportswear in contrast to the hedonistic debauchery around him. By the time Mary Zophres had worked her magic, Jackie has opted for something bolder, arguably more cartoonishly anachronistic and sleazy as it echoes a familiar look that Al Pacino wore in Scarface (1983) more than a decade earlier, more suggestive of Jackie’s shady dealings than the smooth bachelor persona suggested by the screenplay.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently sleazy or shady about a white suit, especially when worn in the appropriate setting of a southern California beach party. Jackie’s creamy off-white suit appears to be constructed from a slightly napped polyester blend, cut consistent with ’90s fashions as evident by the somewhat oversized jacket with its wide, padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads falling off the shoulder. The single-breasted jacket’s broad notch lapels roll to a low two-button stance. The ventless jacket is also styled with three-button cuffs, a welted breast pocket, and a straight jetted pocket on each hip.
Jackie’s bright scarlet red shirt is styled in the tradition of mid-century sportswear, a long-sleeved camp shirt worn untucked for a more free-flowing, casual appearance and a breach of sartorial tradition that signifies his additional comfort living beyond the boundaries of decorum. The four red plastic sew-through buttons fasten through horizontal buttonholes up the plain front.
The shirt has a traditional camp collar, also known as a Cuban or revere collar, which has been making a retro-inspired comeback on casual shirts in 2020 even beyond the traditional leisurewear domains of brands like Cubavera or Tommy Bahama as mainstream retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, ASOS, and Banana Republic have proudly touted their camp-collared offerings this summer. (Though we’re still unlikely to see a Turnbull & Asser camp shirt anytime soon, even among their Weekend Collection, apropos the screenplay.) Unlike some camp collars, Jackie’s shirt does not have a small loop on the left side that would connect with a button under the right collar leaf.
Jackie’s shirt also has two patch pockets on the chest, each covered with a rounded-corner flap, and the squared barrel cuffs each close through a single button. The shirt also appears to be made from synthetic fabric, likely rayon.
The untucked shirt covers much of the top of Jackie’s matching suit trousers, though they do appear to be pleated with side pockets. The plain-hemmed trouser bottoms break over his shoes and socks, both tonally coordinated to match his suit. If his suit is a pale creamy shade off of white, Jackie’s patent leather loafers are a much richer cream—almost beige—with a cap toe and a strap across each vamp. His ivory socks continue the leg line between trousers and shoes with little contrast, though said hosiery are only seen when Jackie is seated due to the break of his trousers.
Jackie lets his clothes provide his flash, limiting his visible jewelry and accessories to a single gold ring on the third finger of his right hand. This ring appears to have a squared, diamond-encrusted face with a raised black stone in the center.
Go Big or Go Home
The Big Lebowski implies that Jackie Treehorn’s postmodern crib overlooks a beach in Malibu, though the Incan-inspired party where we meet Jackie was actually filmed at Point Dume off Westward Beach Road in Malibu, just under an hour due west of the Sheats-Goldstein residence that stands in for Jackie’s house. A promontory forming the northern end of Santa Monica Bay, Point Dume was named by Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver in 1793 to honor Padre Francisco Dumetz of Mission San Buenaventura and became a popular spot for whaling, rock climbing, and clothing-optional recreation consistent with how Jackie Treehorn’s guests tend to party.
Point Dume remains a popular filming location in movies and TV, providing the setting for pivotal scenes in Planet of the Apes (1968) as well as the backdrop of Tony Stark’s mansion in the Iron Man MCU films, consistent with the upper-class residential development in the area of the last few decades.
An equally popular filming location is the Sheats-Goldstein house that stands in for Jackie Treehorn’s “completely unspoiled” pad. Located at 10104 Angelo View Drive in Beverly Crest overlooking the San Fernando Valley, the 4,500-square-foot home was completely designed and built by architect John Lautner in the early 1960s, from the foundation to the furniture. Originally commissioned for the Sheats family, the residence was eventually purchased by its current owner, eccentric businessman James Goldstein, who continued to work with Lautner over the next two decades until the architect’s death. In 2016, Goldstein entrusted the home—then conservatively valued at $40 million per Observer—to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
The home is an example of Organic Architecture (a natural environment-driven philosophy exemplified by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater), constructed using poured-in-place concrete, steel, and wood with an open plan that harmonizes with the temperate southern California climate. Though the home relies on cross-ventilation rather than air conditioning for cooling, the floors are radiant heated with copper pipes that also serve to heat the pool.
The Big Lebowski‘s scenes at Sheats-Goldstein are primarily set in the triangular living room, which is open to the outside and skylit by “moving lights on the ground, giving the impression that one is walking in a primeval forest, made possible by 750 drinking glasses set as skylights into the concrete of the roof,” according to Arch Journey.
You can read more about the Sheats-Goldstein residence here:
- “The Dude Abides in Los Angeles” by Gustavo Turner (Discover Los Angeles)
- “The Goldstein Residence” (James Goldstein)
- “Iconic House Featured in ‘The Big Lebowski’ Gifted to LACMA” by Parker Richards (Observer)
- “Jackie Treehorn’s House and its Eccentric Owner” by Sam Bloch (LA Weekly)
- “LACMA Throws a Party to Celebrate Their Architectural Acquisition” by Chris Nichols (Los Angeles Magazine)
- “Want to Go to Jackie Treehorn’s House from The Big Lebowski?” by Chris Nichols (Los Angeles Magazine)
- “Sheats-Goldstein Residence” (Arch Journey)
- “Sheats-Goldstein Residence” (Wikipedia)
- “Sheats House” (wikiarquitectura)
How to Get the Look
The ultimate hedonist, Jackie Treehorn transcends time and traditional taste with his roomy off-white suit and untucked red camp shirt, looking just as comfortable as the Dude in his sweats while managing to be arguably dressier.
- Off-white napped polyester-blend suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with wide notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Pleated trousers with side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Scarlet red long-sleeved camp shirt with two flapped chest pockets, plain front, and squared cuffs
- Cream patent leather cap-toe loafers with vamp straps
- Ivory socks
- Gold ring with squared diamond face
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, one of my all-time favorites.
People forget that the brain is the biggest erogenous zone.