Arts & Culture

‘Cowtown Stardom’ dresses up for Fort Worth fundraiser

Actress Ruta Lee is among participating celebrities who have ties to Fort Worth.
Actress Ruta Lee is among participating celebrities who have ties to Fort Worth. Star-Telegram archives

The spare bedroom is full. Bags and boxes crowd the twin beds. Floor space is jammed with hanging racks stuffed with garments on loan from a long list of celebrities, all with ties to Fort Worth.

For weeks, Gail Landreth has been filling this room in her home with signature clothing and accessories for “Cowtown Stardom: Fashions of Fort Worth’s Famous,” a one-time exhibit benefiting Historic Fort Worth.

The show runs Thursday to Sunday at Thistle Hill, the grand dame of Fort Worth’s house museums. Ticketholders get not only a look at the items on loan from more than 40 luminaries, but also a chance to see behind the elegant front door of this landmark house built in 1904 as a wedding gift for Electra Waggoner, daughter of W.T. Waggoner, one of Texas’ most storied ranchers. Of course, Electra’s 9-foot-long lace wedding veil will be on display.

Because competition for every benefit dollar is furious, nonprofits everywhere are under pressure to hatch new events while employing the tried-and-true variety to help raise the dollars needed to keep a cause alive. But Landreth, who is the working event chair for “Cowtown Stardom,” waves off any recognition for this first-time, one-time Historic Fort Worth fundraiser.

Longtime entertainment reporter Bobbie Wygant is the honorary event chairwoman.

“The idea for this show really came from Ruta Lee,” says Landreth. Lee is, of course, one of Cowtown’s favorite stage personalities. For decades a regular at Casa Mañana, she earned her spurs in film and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the television industry.

Over the past few years, Landreth and Lee have become the sort of friends who can ask a favor. But when Landreth invited Lee to display her costume collection as a fundraiser for Historic Fort Worth, the popular actress had reservations.

“She thought a show of only her things might not interest enough people,” Landreth says.

And so Landreth, following Lee’s recommendation, broadened the scope of the show and launched a search for celebs willing to give Historic Fort Worth a boot up by loaning some of their favorite things to display.

“These aren’t all the celebrities with ties to Fort Worth, but there are a lot of them,” she says.

She wades into the memorabilia-packed room she has given over to the collection. Because there will be a wedding at Thistle Hill the weekend before this show opens, the display won’t be installed until the 11th hour.

Landreth pushes aside a cocktail dress, then a jacket, then an evening gown with a boa, talking as she searches for one particular thing.

She stops often, pulling out one item and then another, and turning around to show it off.

There’s plenty of sports memorabilia, including golfing great Ben Hogan’s cap and football star Davey O’Brien’s varsity sweater.

There’s plenty of sports memorabilia, including golfing great Ben Hogan’s cap, a helmet from three-time Indy winner Johnny Rutherford, football star Davey O’Brien’s varsity sweater, a Fort Worth Cats jersey from “Mr. Baseball” Bobby Bragan and more

There are cocktail dresses, jackets, boots and costumes from movies, stage productions and TV shows. Each of these things represents a memory for someone, a highlight in a single life, says Landreth, and that makes each one precious.

“You make room in your closet for an individual item because it holds so many memories for you,” she says.

Landreth understands this sentimental gesture, this desire to hold tight to another time and place. In fact, she has not just a bit of space but an entire closet dedicated to such things.

“My grandmother was a fabulous seamstress. … I have dresses my she made for me when I was a little girl … I have things I will never part with,” she says.

Landreth pushes past most of the items, first on one rack and then another: author Sandra Brown’s Armani pantsuit; actress Anne Lockhart’s jacket from Battlestar Galactica, aviator Jeana Yeager’s Voyager flight suit, dance costumes from entertainers Gracie and Tommy Tune, a fringed leather jacket from rodeo star Mitzi Riley, actor Bill Paxton’s jacket from One False Move, and a glittering black-and-white cocktail dress worn by Bobbie Wygant, a local entertainment reporter and personality and this event’s honorary chair.

He’s the only one painting the moon and outer space from his own experience.

Gail Landreth, on astronaut-turned-artist Alan Bean

Landreth stops to explain that one teal chiffon evening gown is a 1960-something copy of a gown worn by dancer Ginger Rogers. “The Smithsonian has all her costumes,” she says.

She pushes on.

“Here it is,” she declares and turns with a triumphant smile. “This is astronaut Alan Bean’s painting apron.”

“He is such a gift to America. He’s the only one painting the moon and outer space from his own experience.”

Now in his 80s, Bean sometimes mixes a pinch of moon dust that was left on his suit into the paint, she says.

“I want people to see what an incredible life he still has,” says Landreth, who sent him another apron so his painting schedule wouldn’t be interrupted and so this show can go on.

Cowtown Stardom: Fashions of Fort Worth’s Famous

  • Thursday-Sunday
  • Thistle Hill, 1509 Pennsylvania Ave., Fort Worth
  • $20 at the door and online
  • Champagne reception 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday; $125