We acknowledge Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and give respect to Elders – past and present – and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
98/32/1 Suit, performance costume, cotton / velvet /silk / diamantes, made by Len Taylor, used by Johnny O'Keefe, Australia, 1957-1959. Click to enlarge.

Suit worn by Johnny O'Keefe and made by Len Taylor

Made
Johnny O'Keefe was Australia's first rock 'n' roll star. Full of energy, confidence and ambition, he was a dynamic live performer with a raw voice and an exuberant stage presence that earned him the nickname 'the wild one'. He hosted his own television shows and did much to encourage and promote other Australian rock performers, but his greatest legacy was as a performer and recording artist.

In the mid 1950s O'Keefe sang at dances, doing impersonations of American 'sob' singer Johnnie Ray. After seeing the film Blackboard jungle, which introduced rock 'n' roll to Australian audiences, he formed a band called the Dee Jays in September 1956. They promoted their own dances at suburban venues until O'Keefe's big break came when the promoter Lee Gordon booked him as a support act on Little Richard's eventful 1957 Australian tour.

The next step on was a hit record. In 1958, with the song 'Wild one' (covered by Iggy Pop in 1985 as 'Real wild child') he became the first Australian rock performer to have a chart hit. Co-written by O'Keefe and members of his band, the song summed up the rebellious attitude of youth.

O'Keefe was rough, raw and loud. His talent lay in his genuine feel for rock 'n' roll and his wild, frenzied and overtly sexual stage antics. He would throw himself into each song, shaking his body and grinning at his fans.

Up to 1960 O'Keefe had a taste for flash stage costumes which accentuated his wild image. An outstanding example is this bright yellow suit trimmed with black velvet and diamantes.

Along with Andy Ellis (420 Pitt St) and Pineapple Joe (George St), Len Taylor, the maker of this suit, was one of the three tailors who provided costumes for O'Keefe and other members of Sydney's rock 'n' roll elite. The museum's collection includes another Johnny O'Keefe stage outfit -- a bright red suit with leopard-print velvet trim - thought to be made by his mother Thelma.

O'Keefe adopted more conservative attire when he began hosting the ABC television show Six o'clock rock in late 1959. Mental illness and the effects of a car crash in 1960 caused him to suffer memory loss, depression and breakdowns. Nevertheless he made a television comeback but by the end of 1964 'Beatlemania' had overtaken O'Keefe. He died in 1978 but will always be remembered as the true pioneer of Australian rock.

Summary

Object No.

98/32/1

Object Statement

Suit, performance costume, cotton / velvet /silk / diamantes, made by Len Taylor, used by Johnny O'Keefe, Australia, 1957-1959

Physical Description

Men's suit consisting of jacket and trousers, worn by Johnny O'Keefe.

-1 Jacket made of yellow [cotton] fabric with black velvet trimming at collar, cuffs and pockets. The jacket has a shawl collar with the neck area trimmed with black velvet decorated with a string of diamantes around the neck. The lapels are of the same yellow fabric and extend to the single button fastening at the waist. The button is made of brownish-black plastic. The jacket is long sleeved and the cuffs are trimmed with black velvet decorated with a string of diamantes around the front half of both cuffs, some diamantes are missing from both cuffs. The jacket has a fake external left breast pocket trimmed with black velvet and diamantes, one diamante appears to be missing from the end of the string. The jacket also has two fake external waist pockets on the left and right sides which are trimmed with black velvet. The jacket is lined with salmon pink silk and has no internal pockets, the shoulders have some padding. A maker's label is sewn inside the jacket at the left breast, the label is cream coloured with black embroidered text "Len Taylor/Sydney/American Clothes Stylist". The label is partly detached from the jacket. The jacket has black marks exteding horizontally from just above the right waist pocket and discolouration in the lining at the centre back neck area and in various places on the external yellow fabric. There are several moth holes in the lining and in the external fabric particularly just below the right waist pocket.

-2 Trousers made of yellow [cotton] fabric, matching trousers to jacket (98/32/1-1). Trousers have 2 side pockets and are pleated at the front of waist. Trousers fasten at centre front with a metal zipper, metal hook and eye and internal button which fastens to button hole on a triangular extension of yellow fabric (this internal button is missing). There are seven belt loops around waist for a thin belt. Trousers are unlined except for the inside waist which is lined with a band of ribbed cream silk, covering a rougher piece of hessian coloured fabric, the zipper is also lined with cream silk. The waistband lining is partially detached from the trousers. The legs of the trousers are hemmed with black velvet giving the appearence of a cuff at the hem of each leg. The cream cotton fabric forming the inside of the left pocket has a handwritten inscription in black ink "J.R O'Keef" [sic] and the fabric forming the inside right pocket has a handwritten inscription in black ink "FHC".

Marks

Jacket - Fabric makers label sewn inside jacket at left breast, label is cream coloured and has black embroidered text "Len Taylor / Sydney / American Clothes Stylist".
Trousers - Hardwritten inscription in black ink on inside left pocket 'J.R O'Keef (sic)' and handwritten inscription in black ink on inside of right pocket 'FHC'.

Production

Notes

Probably designed by the maker Len Taylor to Johnny O'Keefe's specifications.

Contains label 'Len Taylor, Sydney, American clothes stylist'.

O'Keefe stopped wearing brightly coloured suits around 1960, as his television career took off.

History

Notes

Johnny O'Keefe was Australia's first rock'n'roll star. John Michael O'Keefe was born in Sydney in 1935. In the mid-1950s Keefe began appearing at dances imitating American singer Johnnie Ray. In 1956, inspired by the film 'Blackboard jungle' he formed a band, the Dee Jays. Keefe got breaks performing supports for overseas touring artists like Bill Haley, Little Richard and Gene Vincent. In 1958 he released 'Wild one' and became the first Australian rock performer to have a chart hit. Early in his career O'Keefe had a taste for flash clothes and overtly sexual stage antics. International tours were not as successful as he might have hoped, and in the 1960s he went into television as the host of '6 O'Clock Rock', 'The Johnny O'Keefe Show' and 'Sing Sing Sing'. O'Keefe's career waned after 1964, although he enjoyed a revival in 1973. He died in 1978 aged 43.

This is one of two costumes that Johnny O'Keefe donated to the Sydney Opera House's Dennis Wolanski Library and Archives of the Performing Arts. His donation was instigated by Barbara Firth, a family friend of the O'Keefes and member of the Ladies Committee of the Sydney Opera House Appeal Fund. She brought the two costumes to the Opera House on 14 November 1975. They were transferred to the Powerhouse Museum from the Sydney Opera House's in 1998.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Sydney Opera House Trust, 1998

Acquisition Date

11 March 1998

Cite this Object

Harvard

Suit worn by Johnny O'Keefe and made by Len Taylor 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 21 April 2021, <https://ma.as/163408>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/163408 |title=Suit worn by Johnny O'Keefe and made by Len Taylor |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=21 April 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}