Bill Cosby is quickly becoming a household face to a whole new generation of television watchers. They’re the kids who were weaned on Fat Albert cartoons; the kids who see Cosby constantly pitching Coca-Cola and Jell-0 and Texas Instruments home computers. To these new kids, he has become America’s most amiable and creditable commercial spokesman. The ad world is convinced that the Cosby style can sell almost anything.
Actually, Cosby has been a top seller for a long time. He is, without a doubt, the best-selling comedian of all time. Over the years, he’s had 20 albums on the national pop charts. (A new one, “Bill Cosby Himself” was released last fall.) And he continues to pack ’em in and knock ’em dead in Vegas and other live showplaces. The guest host of choice for “The Tonight Show” has combined appearances and endorsements bringing in millions each year.
Not a bad track record for a kid who started out setting track records. Cosby (oddly enough, his friends call him Bill, not Cos) grew up in the low-rent housing projects of Philadelphia, where a sense of humor was one of the few things he could. afford. He quickly made a name for himself as a track and field star, and that won him an athletic scholarship to Temple University, where he also played some football.
To earn pocket money, he worked in a local cocktail lounge. Between serving drinks, he would crack jokes for customers. He soon took his talent to Greenwich Village coffeehouses, where, in 1963, he was “discovered” and given his first shot on the Carson show. A fast-paced TV career quickly followed highlighted by “I Spy,” “The Bill Cosby Show,” and numerous specials. And Cosby’s fortune rose rapidly with his fame.
Where does he spend all that dough? On cars and cigars—but mostly on clothes. He’s had a personal tailor for almost 20 years now. He just might be the biggest clothes horse in show biz. Clothes, he knows, help make the man and his image. And Cosby’s image, from pudding commercials to the Vegas stage, is very carefully orchestrated with his tailor and clothing advisors. We spoke to the man of 1000 suits before a show at the Riviera hotel-casino in Las Vegas. He wore a warmup suit, a long cigar and a big grin as he recounted his early days of sartorial splendor.
PLAYBOY: Do you remember the first suit you ever owned?
COSBY: Ohhhhhh, yeah. Robert Hall. $19.95. I remember because it was a lot of money. It was dark blue and it came with two pair of pants.
PLAYBOY: What was the occasion?
COSBY: It was an Easter suit. It was purchased when I was nine years old, but it really fit an 11-year-old. And it wasn’t because I was that big a kid. It was that I was supposed to grow into it. And so there were about three feet of material folded under on the slacks. The seat was taken in so much I felt like I always had a load in my pants.
I always left the jacket unbuttoned and tried to stand cool. And I remember looking into the mirror and seeing what looked like a topcoat with a pair of pants, because the lapels were so wide they took up three quarters of my chest.
PLAYBOY: How old were you when you finally grew into that suit? Read the rest of this entry »