Terry-Thomas as J. Algernon Hawthorne, British Army officer and rare plant collector
Southern California, Summer 1962
Film: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Release Date: November 7, 1963
Director: Stanley Kramer
Costume Designer: Bill Thomas
Today wraps up Car Week and a mini-celebration of the 60th anniversary year of the star-studded madcap road comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, following on Wednesday’s post by commemorating yet another star’s birthday. Although many sources list July 10 as his birthday, Terry-Thomas himself listed July 14, 1911 as his birthday in his autobiographies, so we’ll celebrate the famously gap-toothed English character actor today by way of his Jeep-driving Lieutenant Colonel J. Algernon Hawthorne.
Terry-Thomas perfected his screen persona as an “amiable bounder”, as described by Gilbert Adair for The Independent after the entertainer’s death in 1990. He had been performing on stage, radio, and screen for nearly thirty years before he was offered the Hawthorne part in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World… which he initially turned down, then reconsidered during his flight back to London, where he called Stanley Kramer from the airport to accept the part before hopping on a return flight to California.
Colonel Hawthorne wasn’t among the canonical four cars who came across Smiler Grogan’s car crash, when the dying crook described the $350,000 fortune buried under a “big W” in Santa Rosita Park, but he’s brought into the chase when his Willys is flagged down by J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle), a seaweed salesman accompanied by his demure wife (Dorothy Provine) and her outspoken mother (Ethel Merman), who later antagonizes the men to the extent that they find the need to hold her upside-down until the keys to Hawthorne’s Jeep shakes out of her bosom.
What’d He Wear?
Lieutenant Colonel Hawthorne explains to Finch’s family that he’s spent the last ten days collecting rare plants and cacti while on leave from his “hush-hush” liaison work at Vandenberg AFB in Santa Barbara County. Considering his military pedigree, Hawthorne looks appropriately dressed for his desert expedition among the plants of the American southwest.
Hawthorne tops the look with a short-brimmed trilby of natural straw, with a round crown and light brown pleated cotton puggaree band.
Hawthorne’s bush clothing consists of a khaki cotton safari shirt and matching shorts. Inspired by military uniforms from units stationed in warm weather, bush clothing was developed by explorers and sportsmen in the 1930s.
Hawthorne’s khaki short-sleeved shirt has a point collar, epaulets (shoulder straps), and two box-pleated chest pockets with pointed flaps that each close through a single button. Rather than a full-length button-up front, the shirt is of the popover style with a four-button placket that extends down to Hawthorne’s stomach—pulled off and on like a polo shirt. All of the buttons are brown.
Hawthorne’s khaki cotton shorts have a long rise, worn at Terry-Thomas’ natural waistline, where they’re held up with a khaki cotton belt that nearly matches the fabric of his clothing. The belt fastens with a small gold-finished frame-style sliding buckle. The shorts have double forward-facing pleats, side pockets, and no back pockets.
These high-waisted, pleated shorts with their knee-length hem follow the Bermuda shorts pattern, so named for their origins where they were adopted by the British Army during World War I.
Although Hawthorne wears knee-length shorts as a cooler-wearing alternative to long trousers, he wears tall socks that rise to just below his knees. Of course, this was the early 1960s, before shorts were commonly worn for any purpose that didn’t specifically require them—Hawthorne’s plant-collecting would apply as a specific purpose in this case.
His khaki ribbed cotton socks are only a shade darker than the rest of his clothes, with the tops folded over to avoid the knee. These high-wearing socks serve practical purposes for Hawthorne, protecting his lower legs against the sun, bugs, and the various thorny plants he collects.
Hawthorne wears snuff-brown suede two-eyelet desert boots. Characterized by low derby-laced suede uppers and crepe soles, this style was pioneered by Nathan Clark, inspired by the Cairo-made footwear he’d seen his fellow British Army officers wearing while stationed in Burma during the 1940s. Clark took the design back to his family, which managed the UK shoe company C. & J. Clark, which officially debuted their desert boot at the 1949 Chicago Shoe Fair.
Perhaps author Josh Sims had Terry-Thomas in mind when he wrote in Icons of Men’s Style that “the boots even look good teamed with baggy khaki shorts, as they originally were: after all, they have ‘legendary qualities in hot climates’, as the company’s advertisements declared in the 1950s.”
Colonel Hawthorne chose a practical “machine” for collecting his array of desert flora, a 1955 Willys Jeep Utility Wagon painted a shade of teal-green that appears to be Willys’ color code 110 (“Julep Green Poly”).
Toledo-based manufacturer Willys-Overland Motors had been producing passenger automobiles for more than 30 years when it was selected by the U.S. Army to produce the durable, lightweight reconnaissance vehicles that had been designed by American Bantam, immortalized during World War II as the “Jeep”.
After the war, Willys capitalized on the vehicle’s popularity by introducing a line of Jeeps intended for the civilian market, including the open-top “CJ” (Civilian Jeep) and the enclosed Jeep Station Wagon, designed by industrial designer Brooks Stevens. The Willys Jeep Station Wagon became the first all-steel mass-market station wagon upon its introduction in 1946. Initially offered only in rear-wheel-drive, Willys introduced anoptional four-wheel-drive option in 1949, arguably making the Willys Jeep Utility Wagon—as the 4WD was first branded—the world’s first production SUV.
Engine options included a standard four-cylinder F-head “Hurricane” (Model 475) and a slightly more powerful Kaiser Continental inline-six (Model 6-226) that was introduced in 1954 after Willys merged with Kaiser. Hawthorne’s two-door Willys wagon is clearly stenciled “Jeep 4 Wheel Drive” on the rear door, but I’m not well-versed enough in these models to determine if his can be differentiated between the four-cylinder 475 or the six-cylinder 6-226 based on what we see on screen. (Though, for what it’s worth, I’ve heard that the cowl can be a differentiating factor between these models.)
1955 Willys Jeep Utility Wagon
Body Style: 2-door station wagon
Layout: four-wheel-drive (4WD)
Engine: 134 cu. in. (2.2 L) Willys “Hurricane” F-head inline-4 with single Carter YF-951S 1-barrel carburetor
Power: 75 hp (56 kW; 76 PS) @ 4000 RPM
Torque: 115 lb·ft (156 N·m) @ 2000 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 104.5 inches (2654 mm)
Length: 176.25 inches (4477 mm)
Width: 71.75 inches (1822 mm)
Height: 74 inches (1880 mm)
Finch and his family were likely pleased to flag down a vehicle that could transport them over any rough terrain they may encounter, though they may have been dismayed at the speed disadvantage, given that Willys Utility Wagons could hardly top 80 miles per hour.
Production of the Jeep Station Wagon and Utility Wagon ended after the 1964 model year, as it had been generally phased out by the then-new Jeep Wagoneer.
How to Get the Look
Whether you’re collecting rare plants in the American southwest or simply eager to channel that traditional high-socked safari aesthetic this summer, let Terry-Thomas’ head-to-toe khaki from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World be your sartorial guide.
- Straw short-brimmed trilby with brown cotton puggaree band
- Khaki cotton short-sleeved popover bush shirt with point collar, epaulets (shoulder straps), 4-button placket, and two box-pleated chest pockets (with button-down flaps)
- Khaki cotton double forward-pleated knee-length Bermuda shorts with high rise, belt loops, and side pockets
- Khaki cotton belt with gold-toned sliding buckle
- Snuff-brown suede 2-eyelet crepe-soled desert boots
- Khaki ribbed cotton knee socks
Do Yourself A Favor And…
I must say, if I had the grievous misfortune to be a citizen of this benighted country, I should be most hesitant in offering any criticism whatever of any other.