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A lot of people don't believe in leaving luck to chance--hence the faded ties, bright undies or tired fencing gloves. With these talismans they're ... : Leading Charmed Lives

September 17, 1993|ROSE-MARIE TURK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before actress Bette Ford appeared on shows like "Cheers" and "L.A. Law," she was a matador who wore a religious medallion and a pair of red-and-white silk panties for luck.

In case anyone doubts that underwear helped Ford survive five years in the ring and 400 bulls, she says the one time she didn't wear them, she dislocated her shoulder.

As any true believer knows, a lucky charm just turns up. An unsuspecting Ford bought hers in New York, "wore them at one point, had an exceptional bullfight and began to think they must be good luck."

All it takes to turn even a mundane scrap of material into a talisman "is the magic of the time before," says folklorist Frances Cattermole-Tally.

She once had a magic fencing glove, held together in its final days with dental floss. And as executive editor of the soon-to-be-published "Encyclopedia of American Popular Beliefs and Superstitions," she has collected more than 500 entries about clothing.

"Psychologically, these things do work," she says, "because when your expectations are good, the results are good."

Clippers star Mark Jackson never plays a professional game without his wedding ring tied to his shoe. Author Judith Krantz keeps airplanes aloft with an egg charm she wears on a gold chain. And songwriter Allee Willis won't leave home without a fish pendant.

Then there is 14-year-old Kris Hawkes, who wears one dirty and one clean stirrup to play second base and shortstop for the Cubs, a Pony League team in Los Angeles. He also keeps a photograph of Darryl Strawberry tucked inside his jock strap.

Los Angeles photographer Victoria Mihich found Dame Fortune hiding in a man's black fedora. "The hat," she says, "has always served me very well with celebrities. It gives them something to joke about."

She bought it at a swap meet 10 years ago and never takes it off during a shoot. But the people she photographs inevitably do. "Or at least they touch it," Mihich says. "So I feel it has this history of wonderful ghosts."

Conductor Kurt Sanderling, one of her "ghosts," hadn't been photographed in nearly 20 years and agreed to give her only three minutes of his time. But her hat changed that. He took it off, began to relax and spent nearly an hour posing for what is now his official photograph.

Film company executive John DeSimio wears a hat to work every day. And he wears a hat every night he plays cards to establish "the proper poker persona." He wouldn't call himself superstitious, but now that he's developed the habit, "it would be unlucky not to wear one," he says.

His poker-playing favorites are a beret, a Borsalino straw ("my Frank Sinatra hat") and a Stetson ("the kind that Harry Truman used to wear"). His most unlucky hat is an Irish tweed, in which he played once, had "a particularly bad night" and relegated to rainy days and golf.

"That's another thing people can do," says Cattermole-Tally. "They can blame things on something they wore: It isn't you who opened your mouth and said the wrong thing, it's the color of the suit you wore."

Art gallery director Julie Miyoshi knows all about the flip side of fortune. She has a good-luck ring and a bad-luck bracelet. The ring, made of gold and jade, is a family heirloom that Miyoshi received when she graduated from UCLA. With it on her finger, she says: "I have developed the career I wanted all my life."

But the bracelet--an expensive designer piece in hand-cast silver, jade, amethyst and lapis--"hasn't been a good-luck charm at all. I lost a job offer, I lost a boyfriend. All the times I thought it would make an impression, it didn't."

After five unsuccessful forays, she tried to give it away--to her mother, who is "one of the luckiest persons in the world. I know this sounds awful, but I thought this would be lucky for her." It didn't fit and Miyoshi has hidden the bracelet in a drawer.

For 10 years, a Sunday-school pin awarded for perfect attendance worked like a charm for Edward Maeder, curator of costumes and textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He lost the pin. But he found similar powers in special neckties, including one made from a film strip with his favorite movie actresses on it.

Before he knew just how lucky the tie was, Maeder wore it to lecture on "Hollywood and History." "Anytime you are talking in front of the public, you need all the help you can get," he says. "Obviously it went with the subject. But there was something else. I felt more empowered with it."

By contrast, attorney Greg Economos' magic tie is fairly conservative. He bought the silk paisley print in Washington five years ago, has worn it on every job interview "and gotten every one," he says.

But his luck could be running out. "It's looking a little ratty," he says. "Every time I get it dry-cleaned, it loses a bit of color."

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