Its Over For the Under

7:20 p.m. Dec. 20

Chicagoans are still upset about Marshall Field’s becoming Macy’s. Around Thanksgiving, a group of shoppers actually protested in front of the department store.

I’m glad that’s all that’s wrong with the world.

And locals continue to lament the closing of the Berghoff (in what really was a union busting move with the restaurant’s storied waiters–the Berghoff reopened as a small cafe.)

But here’s something to really get your undies in a bunch.

Frederick’s of Hollywood has closed its Lingerie Museum.

Growing up as a flatlander, I always wanted to visit vivacious Los Angeles. My first trip to L.A. was in 1976. I stayed in a seedy hotel on Alvarado Street, maybe because Warren Zevon sang about it. I didn’t know a soul in Los Angeles and there were rusty burglar bars on windows all along Alvarado. I headed to Hollywood Boulevard where I ate at Musso & Frank’s—the kindred spirit to the Berghoff—and I saw Frederick’s of Hollywood (founded in 1946 by Frederick Mellinger).

I was 21 years old.

In the past 30 years several Chicago friends moved to Los Angeles.

I worked with Merv at the Aurora (Ill.) Beacon-News and when he relocated to L.A. in the late ’80s, I gave him my weird tour of Hollywood. It included a stop at the Barnery’s Beanery roadhouse on old Route 66 (8447 Santa Monica Boulevard) where Janis Joplin knocked back a few on the night of her death. She supposedly cracked a bottle of Southern Comfort over the noggin of Jim Morrison here, too. Don’t know about that. But I do know this:

When Merv and I stopped into Barney’s all we saw was Jo Anne Worlely of “Laugh-In” fame.

Merv wanted to reinact the death scene in the driveway of Sal Mineo’s apartment near Sunset Boulevard. I wanted to see where Diane Linkletter jumped to her death after a bad experience with LSD (8787 Shoreham). But we totally agreed to stop at Frederick’s of Hollywood Lingerie Museum.

It was titillating. And it was free.

The museum opened in 1987. It was inside the Frederick’s of Hollywood store, gussied up with its Art Deco purple and red exterior. It looked like a South Beach nightclub. The museum’s permanent collection included Belinda Carlisle’s black leather bra, an autographed white bra (32 B) from Cher, a lace corslette from Mamie Van Doren and Merv’s favorite, Milton Berle’s evening gown from television’s “Texaco Star Theater.” Lita Ford of the Runaways donated her metal bra and a 1954 foundation garment from Ethel Merman’s appearance in “No Business Like Show Business” was on display. I digress: A few weeks ago at Clem’s 50th birthday party at Phyllis’s Musical Inn in Chicago I saw a poster for a band called The Ethel Mermen—my favorite band name of 2006.

Frederick Mellinger’s modesty was perfect for his line of work. Only a few knew he introduced the French bikini to America. He broke barriers in the 1950s by advertising women’s underwear in women’s and men’s magazines. He figured men wanted to sex up women and women wanted to better attract men. “All women are not created equal,” he said at the time. Mellinger presented his outer fashions, “underthings” and “special helpers” to make a woman more attractive and to give her what the store called “confidence, courage and a sense of inner beauty.” Mellinger died in 1990.

During the L.A. riots of May, 1992 the Lingerie Museum was looted. Someone stole Madonna’s sequin-trimmed purple bustier from a display case. She wore the bustier in her 1987 “Who’s That Girl?” world tour. The bustier was never recovered, but she reportedly donated a replacement in exchange for a Frederick’s cash donation to charity. Two other stolen items were found: Ava Gardner’s pantaloons from the movie “Showboat” and a white lace bra from Katey Sagal, who starred in the television series “Married…..with Children.” And they didn’t even touch Phyllis Diller’s training bra (embroidered with the words “This Side Up”).

Why is Frederick’s closing an uplfting piece of Americana?

According to yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, the original Frederick’s of Hollywood location at 6608 Hollywood Blvd. is being renovated into a dining and entertainment center. Last year Frederick’s moved three blocks away on Hollywood Blvd. near McCadden Place. The museum items are now in storage. Shoppers at the new store can view a grand total of seven pieces of famous underwear.

If I want to see that, I’ll just look in my dresser.

The seven pieces were designed by celebrities for charity auctions. There’s something with butterflies from Sharon Stone and a bra or corset from Halle Berry. So sad. So now I must strike the Frederick’s of Hollywood Lingerie Museum off my tour itinierary, and all I have are intimate thoughts of the past.

Thanks for the mammories, Frederick.

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