Stockard Channing’s Yellow Dress in The Girl Most Likely To | Clothes on Film

The Girl Most Likely To (1973) is a little seen made-for-TV film for all those who have been laughed at, dumped on or felt in any way degraded because of their looks.

Originally shown as the ABC Movie of the Week, this revengeful black comedy penned by Joan Rivers has rightfully garnered somewhat of a cult following due to its subject matter to which so many can relate.

Stockard Channing plays Miriam Knight, “a beautiful person who had been kidnapped by an ugly body”. Even before physical features are taken into account, her clothes say it all. The whole concoction for her first day at her new university is like something her Mum may have laid out for her the previous night and is a jumbled mess on her overweight body:

Huge red knitted cardigan, garish pointed collared shirt (an attempt at fashion by poor Miriam), ridiculously wide and tweedy skirt, old shopping bag and brown lace-up shoes…this is a hideous array on a poor girl who while intelligent, good-natured and witty, has not been blessed appearance-wise, with practically a monobrow, pimpled no make-up skin and greasy hair. In contrast to her trendy and attractive co-students, she feels (and really is) an ‘ugly duckling’.

But when a car accident leaves her requiring plastic surgery, to her surprise, as the bandages are removed, she emerges not only a beautiful, slender woman (Stockard wore padding for Miriam Mark 1 and was known to change back and forth between Miriams three times a day, such was the hectic 12 day shooting schedule) but with full make-up (Marlon Brando’s best friend and make-up man also tended to Ms. Channing here), false eyelashes, plucked eyebrows, flawless blow-dried hair, a California tan and perhaps most surprising of all, a fashion sense.

But who is to say this isn’t the real Miriam? Ok, so evidently now she has a beauty regime, and is slimmer, though the latter could be accounted for by the fact she has been mummified in bandages for the last few weeks. Emerging in a diaphanous nightgown and robe, Miriam immediately attracts many of the male doctors’ attention. Her first piece of daywear is a saffron yellow wraparound dress.

This dress is well chosen in many ways. After the accident, the audience need a shock element in the contrasting ‘swan’ to follow. Thus it has been discussed on many occasions that people cannot believe it is the same actress playing the character, such is her transformation. Therefore the fact that a simple one-colour garment is used is already a different look for our heroine. But for Miriam to be considered a then modern woman, she needed a garment that was the height of fashion. Enter the influence of Belgian designer Diane Von Furstenberg and her signature wrap dress.

In 1973, as The Girl Most Likely To was probably in production, the first line of this most famous dress was being manufactured. It was aimed at women like “the new Miriam” who wanted to look feminine but also wished to portray a professional, non-fussy image.

After the boxy shift dresses of the 1960s, in the early 70’s clothes became softer and clung freely to the female form, moving with the wearer rather than the more confining silhouette of the previous decade. As Miriam decides on whom she needs to exact revenge, choosing her ‘disguise’ costumes, she is wearing her yellow dress which is appropriately plain yet modern compared to some of the more-dated mini-dress concoctions she is to wear.

The fit and flare style of Miriam’s dress is also in keeping with this era’s fluidly draped jersey fabric couture. The short sleeves flare out away from the body, as does the skirt from the matching belted waist. Apparently the objective of these garments was to look as if no underwear was being worn; the simpler look was so desirable (though you can see a bra if you look closely at the reverse of Stockard’s dress).

Teamed with simple accessories – delicate gold double chain necklace, natural high-heeled sling-backs, mink brown handbag and suitcase, she could not look more different than the over-cluttered Miriam of old, apart from a gold signet ring (which she wears throughout) and a gold bangle (which Stockard seems to wear in much of her 70’s work).

New York designers at this time were also preferring easier American daywear with more natural colours, rather than the harsher blacks, whites and garish hues of the 60’s. English designer Jean Muir was also pioneering of saffron yellow as one of her favourites, along with the lowering of hemlines from the mini.

No costume designer is credited for this film and it is a fair assumption, judging by budget, that there was no such role. Also, having seen Stockard wear the same dress in Silent Victory: The Kitty O’Neil Story in 1979, and having seen Channing wearing other costume from this film in an episode of Medical Center (1974) we could safely assume that this and many other items worn here were from the actress’ own wardrobe.

Whatever the dress’s origins, it certainly plays a large part in this film. Miriam wears it the first time she leaves the hospital after her operation, much to the pleasure of the passing ‘gentlemen’ to her surprise. As the doctors tell her “you’re packaged differently now!”

The Girl Most Likely To offers a harsh comment on society at that time (and still) of judgment on appearance alone. Miriam’s basic personality does not change, “underneath I’m the same person I always was!”, though her transformation brings about a confidence in her speech and gestures; the way she carries herself after the accident is very different than before. Further drastic changes in her appearance arise as she exacts her revenge, by the use of wigs, including Marilyn Monroe’s blonde bob from ‘Let’s Make Love’, and outlandish costume.

We may leave the film with mixed feelings, unsure whether to cheer for Miriam with wicked delight as memories of the high school bully come flooding back, or a little narked that the only way she manages to ‘bag her man’ is by undergoing plastic surgery. Perhaps the last word is best left to Miriam herself…“I’m brand new!”, but she too is not truly happy – “how could I be…when there were so many other Miriams out there?”

Written by Gilly Howard

© 2010 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.