Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky
Harry Dean Stanton as “Lucky”, grizzled desert-dwelling nonagenarian
Piru, California, Summer 2016
Release Date: March 11, 2017
Director: John Carroll Lynch
Costume Designer: Lisa Norcia
Today’s post celebrates the great Harry Dean Stanton, the craggy and unapologetically authentic character actor born 95 years ago on July 14, 1926. Stanton’s prolific filmography included few leading roles, aside from a memorable turn in Wim Wenders’ 1984 masterpiece Paris, Texas, and his final movie, Lucky.
Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja collaborated on the screenplay that would result in a cinematic love letter to Harry Dean Stanton, for whom Sparks had served as personal assistant for more than 16 years. Described by Movie Talk as “a poignant meditation on mortality”, Lucky provides a fitting swan song for the actor’s career, incorporating biographical details like Stanton’s Kentucky birthplace and service in the U.S. Navy, reuniting him with previous collaborators like David Lynch and Tom Skeritt, and even scored by harmonica riffs on “Red River Valley”, a song associated with his roles in Dillinger (1973) and Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), not to exclude the overall motif of roaming the southwestern desert that echoes his starring role in Paris, Texas.
The man at the heart of it all is “Lucky”, a cantankerous but not unkind 90-year-old who loves cigarettes, crossword puzzles, and coffee with plenty of cream and sugar. A man of routine, Lucky begins each day with a Natural American Spirit cigarette, his calisthenics (“five yoga exercises every day, 21 repetitions each”), and a glass of cold milk, before he slips into one of his identical shirts, jackets, and jeans to greet another day in the small desert town of Piru, California.
Piru may not be home to many residents, but almost all are friends of Lucky, looking out for the aging veteran despite his insistence that he’s lived life on his own terms for long enough that he doesn’t need any help now. “Those things are gonna kill you!” warns Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) as he watches Lucky lighting up another of his Natural American Spirits. “If they could’ve, they would’ve,” Lucky coughs in response, and even his doctor (Ed Begley, Jr.) iss battled by what must be “some sort of scientific anomaly… a combination of genetic good luck and you’re one tough son-of-a-bitch.”
After ninety years, Lucky thinks he’s seen it all, but the focus of his life realigns as he comes to terms with the concept of “realism”, which he encounters while trying to solve a seven-letter clue in the day’s crossword puzzle:
Is realism a thing?
What’d He Wear?
Let’s build Lucky’s look in the order that we see him getting dressed.
Our hero begins each day with the Five Tibetan Rites of Rejuvenation, clad only in his underwear. Invariably, Lucky wears a white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt, the type branded as an “A-shirt” (athletic shirt) when introduced by Jockey in the mid-1930s before it was colloquially christened with its more unfortunate moniker a decade later. His boxer briefs are also white, constructed from a comfortable cotton jersey fabric.
Following his yoga and first cup of coffee, Lucky turns to his closet, which consists exclusively of identical shirts and jeans that he cycles through during the week. The Western-style snap shirts are all pink, burgundy, and black shadow plaid cotton, with burgundy edge-stitching throughout.
The shirt’s shoulder yokes taper toward the center, rather than symmetrical pointed yokes on some Western shirts. These are echoed by the slanted pockets, which have asymmetrical single-snap flaps that sharply slant toward the center of the shirt. The front placket has mixed tan pearl-effect snaps, similar to those that close the pockets and the three to fasten each barrel cuff.
Lucky tucks his shirts into jeans, cycling through identical pairs of blue denim straight-cut jeans that can be identified as Wrangler by the little tell-tale red tag sewn along the seam above the back-right pocket as well as the “W”-shaped stitch on both back pockets.
Based on the straight fit and the low curvature of the front pockets, they appear to be the venerable Wrangler 13MWZ Cowboy Cut® jeans that the North Carolina-based outfitter has been steadily producing since 1947, when they were designed by “Rodeo Ben” Lichenstein. Given this heritage, it’s likely that Lucky has been wearing them since he was a young man in his early 20s.
Apropos the movie’s themes, the wash appears to be a medium shade of blue that Wrangler currently markets as “antique blue”, available from Amazon and Wrangler.com, among other retailers. Lucky holds his jeans up with a wide dark brown leather belt that has a curved copper single-prong buckle as well as two smaller pieces of copper trim flanking the leather keeper-loop.
Lucky sits on the edge of his bed to slip into a pair of black leather cowboy boots, decoratively stitched up the shafts and detailed with the classic “bug and wrinkle” medallion over the vamps.
Lucky wears the shafts of his boots inside the legs of his jeans, but—when he steps outside in his underwear and boots—we see the over-the-top pull tabs on each side of each shaft, as well as the black tube socks that extend just above his boots, a few inches below each knee.
Lucky almost always layers on an olive waxed cotton barn coat, known alternately as a chore coat, field coat, or trapper jacket. Lucky’s four-button coat has a brown corduroy collar and rounded reinforced semi-yokes over the shoulders and extending down from the collar in the back. The set-in sleeves have cuffs that close through one of two buttons to adjust the fit over each wrist.
The flapped patch pocket over the left chest also has a smaller inset pocket, and there are two large flapped pockets over the hips. A large game pocket extends across the lower back, with a straight vertical entry on each side.
Before heading out for the day, Lucky always completes his look by donning his well-worn straw cowboy hat, detailed with a single-braided brown leather band at the base of the crown. Like its wearer, the hat shows its age with the fraying around the edges, from the top of the pinched brown to around the curled brim.
For daily activities like his crossword puzzles or his nightly shows, Lucky keeps a pair of black rectangular-framed Ray-Ban reading glasses handy.
Even in his sleep, Lucky wears on his left wrist a silver open bangle bracelet with a single gold or brass bead at each end. Once his day begins, he slips on a plain steel watch with an expanding band onto the same wrist, with the round white dial facing the inside.
What to Imbibe
Lucky remains a nightly regular at his favorite local watering hole, Elaine’s (run by Beth Grant’s character of the same name), where the bartender Vincent knows to serve him a Bloody Maria, a tequila-based alternative to the traditional Bloody Mary.
Like so many popular cocktails, the confirmed origins of the Bloody Mary are lost to history thanks to the conflicting accounts of its claimed creators, whether that’s French bartender Ferdinand Petiot or American comedian George Jessel. We do know that the drink likely emerged during the interwar era, as Lucius Beebe had referred to it by name for his column “This New York” in 1939, attributing the “Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka” to Jessel.
In the decades since its origins, the Bloody Mary has become one of the best-known mixed drinks in American culture, often a brunch favorite for its rumored “hair of the dog” properties. The official recipe evolved to double the amount of tomato juice to vodka, with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt, pepper, celery, and citrus adding flavor, though some unique variations boast entire meals as garnishment, with everything from hamburger sliders to shrimp decorating some prized “Bloodies”.
Aside from the endless variations of garnishment, swapping out the base spirit also offers imbibers a refreshed experience. Gin, whiskey, and even absinthe are occasionally pressed into service, but one of the most popular—and rewarding—variations is the “Bloody Maria”, which merely uses tequila instead of vodka. Various recipes abound (look no further than Liquor.com and Men’s Journal for a few favorites I’ve tried), but Lucky’s nightly Bloody Maria appears to be a simply made concoction of blanco or plata tequila, tomato juice, hot sauce, and a celery stalk and lime wedge to garnish.
How to Get the Look
Lucky’s closet—and, indeed, the entire way he lives his life—suggests a man of routine who knows exactly what he likes and sticks to it, filling his wardrobe with identical snap-front shirts and Wrangler jeans that he wears on a daily basis, anchored by his well-traveled straw hat, cowboy boots, and a corded-collar chore jacket that may seem too warm for summer in the California desert, though the insulation may be comfortable for a lean nonagenarian like Lucky.
- Olive waxed cotton barn coat with brown corduroy collar, flapped chest pocket (with inset pocket), flapped hip pockets, button cuffs, and side-entry rear game pocket
- Pink, burgundy, and black shadow plaid snap-front Western shirt with tapered chest yoke, slanted chest pockets (with asymmetrical single-snap flaps), and triple-snap cuffs
- Blue denim Wrangler 13MWZ “Cowboy Cut” jeans
- Dark brown leather belt with curved copper-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather cowboy boots with decorative shaft stitching and “bug and wrinkle” medallion vamps
- Black tube socks
- Natural straw fraying cowboy hat with tan braided leather band
- Black rectangular-framed plastic Ray-Ban reading glasses
- Silver open bangle bracelet
- Steel wristwatch with round white dial on steel expanding band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I always thought that what we all agreed on is what we were looking at, but that’s bullshit because what I see is not necessarily what you see… that’s it, that’s some heavy shit.
The gin version came first, rather than being a variation on the Bloody Mary. It’s called a red snapper, and I think it dates all the way back to Jerry Thomas.