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Chosen One of the Day: Dr. Terwilliker in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

Contributed by
Apr 7, 2018

The original title of this post was “Chosen One of the Day: Dr. Terwilliker in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, AKA the only well-dressed character in cinema history.” An unwieldy title—but a true one.

In the entirety of cinema, there is only one character—one!—who has ever worn good clothes. It’s not Dr. Sattler from Jurassic Park. It’s not Padmé Amidala. It’s not Hannibal Lecter. It’s Dr. Terwilliker, as voiced by Hans Conried, in Roy Rowland's 1953 film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

If you’re not familiar with The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, it’s the only film ever written by Dr. Seuss, and it contains all the insanity that such a label implies. Tommy Rettig stars as a young boy who has a nightmare in which his hated piano teacher (Conried, a gifted voice actor who lent his talents to Disney’s Captain Hook and Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Snidely Whiplash) is transformed into a frequently apoplectic dictator who kidnaps 500 kids so he can force them to play his giant piano. Regarded as a cult classic now, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T flopped upon its initial release, partly because it was ahead of its time, partly because it was scary as hell.

Nothing embodies The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T’s unique mix of WTFery and visual inventiveness—its Seussicality, if you will—better than Dr. Terwilliker’s ever-flamboyant wardrobe. Here's just a sample:

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He has a cape. He has a funky hat. He has a series of accoutrements. Are those feathered epaulettes you see? Yes, they are. And this is just his formalwear. What Dr. Terwilliker dons to lounge around the house also brings it on the dramatic front.

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I can see Zendaya wearing that tunic. Or maybe a cult leader. It's very the-Master-from-Manos: Hands of Fate.

Dr. Terwilliker's clothes are so epic that they get their own musical number, titled "Dressing Song: Do-Mi-Do Duds." Here is just a sample of the items described therein:

  • Silver garters
  • Undulating undies with marabou frills
  • Purple nylon girdle with orange blossom buds
  • Polka-dotted dickie with crinoline fringe
  • Jacket made of watermelon suede
  • Long persimmon placket with platinum braid
  • Cutie chamois booties with leopard skin bows
  • Pink brocaded bodice with floozy, fuzzy ruffs
  • Bright blue bloomers with monkey feature cuffs
  • Organdy snood

Why would you want gender norms in fashion when you could have an organdy snood?

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