I started out humbly. I cut hair at the Ferry building for nine
months, got my degree at Healds, spent a year shampooing on a Princess Cruise Line
off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, and have been a barber at Lonnies House of Hair
for three years. Ive put in the double shifts, learned every thing there is about
conditioner, and can imitate the classics: the beehive, the brush cut, et cetera.
Inevitably, though, at some point, you come to a crisis, you cant avoid asking the
question whether youll forever be imitating others or whether youll truly
break out on your own. Am I just destined to be a barber, or will I ever break out as a
true stylist? Lonnie says that you have to give it ten years, that you have to mature, and
you have to wait for your big break.
August 1993. Richard Gere is in San Francisco to promote the first
annual Seventh Day/Find a Cure Fashion Gala, and on August 14th a photograph of him
appears on the front page of the San Francisco Sunday Examiner, in murky color, wearing
blue jeans, a white Find a Cure T-shirt, and a brown merino wool sport coat. Hes
grinning and his hairwhich he had just recently let go grayis parted at the
left temple and hang nearly to his shoulders. Waking up that morning at the Westin St.
Francis and seeing his gray hair in print for the first time, Richard becomes despondent,
and within an hour nearly frantic. He leaves the hotel and storms around Union Square,
looking for a hair salon that might be open at nine oclock on a Sunday morning.
Now by random occurrence only, Im at the salon to install new
heat lamps in the ceiling, and the front door is open only momentarily as I am hauling a
carton of lamps in from my car. Richard storms in, takes a seat in back, explains his
situation, and begs me to go to work.
Now I was tired. My hands were jittery. I had been unable to sleep
most of the night before, having been haunted again thinking about my Little Bang Theory.
Id realized the obvious: with mens hair, there are
really two kinds of foreheads, those without bangs and those with Big Bangs, long thick
locks that nearly reach the eyebrows. For some reason, society has deemed it acceptable
for either end of the spectrum to exist, but not the middle ground. There are no little
bangs. The thing is, if your hair is thick, at an inch long its too blunt and has no
curl. But if your hair is thin, then its too wispy, left all alone out there on the
wide expanse of your forehead.
Now as anybody knows, Richard had been wearing bangs ever since
Sommersby, but he had realized that morning that bangs and gray hair do not work in
tandem. But he didnt want short hair, either. He was looking for something that
showed his forehead but yet still hung naturally, with curl. I locked the front door, took
up a clipper and a #3 attachment, and bravely buzzed an inch off his forehead. Then I
moved his part from his temple to the crown of his head and gave his bangs a 90-second
perm, like par boiling, just to give them a slight wave. Richard liked it but he wanted to
know what it would look like in 2-D, so I took a Polaroid.
"A work of art," he said to me, and I beamed.
Lonnie agreed when I showed her the Polaroid. "Picasso
couldnt have done better."
Ive talked with some of the greats, and they argue about
whether fame happens because you consciously touch a nerve of our society, or whether you
just cut the way you cut and one day society decides that youre the new fad. But
they all agree that famous hair requires one quality: it has to appear both conventional
and daring at the same time. According to Lonnie, not only had I created just that, but I
had done it with the hair of none other than one of the most photographed men in America.
With Lonnies introduction, I got an agent that afternoon, Jeff
Ginsberg at CAA. He said we had to work fast. By the end of the day a FedEx package was on
its way to the Library of Congress, registering a copyright on Richard Geres hair as
part sculpture, part performance art. We couldnt protect people from copying the
style of Richards new bangs, which would have required a Trademark, but at the very
least we could prevent anybody using Richards hair in a photograph or on film
without my permission. In addition, my agent explained, in the State of California artists
are given an inherent moral right to not have their artwork defaced. Its a very
serious and powerful law: in Los Angeles, it kept an abandoned building from being
demolished because three years previously the city had commissioned a mural artist to
paint a nativity scene on the brick exterior. So under this law, my agent explained,
nobody else could cut Richards hair without my written consent. Not even Richard
himself could trim it without risking a serious lawsuit.
We held a press conference to spread the word. That first night, as
the VH1 videocameras and Mirabella photographers descended upon the fashion show,
Richards new look was the talk of the tables and got more press than Suzie
Tompkins fall line. I earned over eight thousand dollars in permissions alone, as
well as being interviewed by Allure as "the hands behind the hair".
Within days we could see the effects. On Tuesday I walked in to the
Conditionings salon in Santa Monica, and saw three Disney Studio execs getting the new
look in bangs. On Tuesday night, with my permission, Richard went on the Late Show with
David Letterman to promote his new role in Intersection, and when the camera jump cuts to
Paul Schaeffer at the organ, Paul is wearing a long, gray haired wig with Richard-style
bangs. The next morning the barber shops on Wall Street are brushing brokers hair
down onto their foreheads. Jeff Ginsberg takes out a $2 million insurance policy on
Richards hair with Lloyds of London, guaranteeing us against breakage or split
In the afternoon, Jeff Ginsberg meets me at the headquarters of
MGM/UA, where we are to meet with the producers of Richards new adventure film,
Complete Paralysis, where Richard is to play the captain of an oil tanker that has a
terrorist bomb in the fuel bays, threatening to dump 11 million barrels of Saudi crude
into the Gulf of Texas. The script calls for Richards hair, in a gruesome scene, to
be doused with gasoline by one of the terrorists and lit on firea scene that, if
filmed, would undoubtably deface my artistic creation. Filming was halted that morning at
a warehouse in Brooklyn as my CAA lawyers secured an injunction against the studio. We
have the legal upper-hand, Jeff Ginsberg assures me.
"They cant burn my art," I cry.
Jeff says, "It would be a lot of money."
My eyes widen. "How much?"
We ask for half a million up front against 1% of gross. They counter
with two hundred thousand vs. 3% of net, plus incentives on foreign distribution.
"Foreign is good," Jess says, and we sign on board. I am given a little extra
incentive, a job on the set of making sure no root damage occurs when Richards hair
is burned. My wage is only SAG scale but its worth it. In the big scene, the
terrorist is played by Tim Roth, who has a gun to the head of the first mate, played by
Madeleine Stowe. Richard is tied to a ladder with electrical cord. Tim Roth douses
gasoline in Richards hair, and then he puts the gun in Madeleine Stowes mouth
and a Bic lighter in her hand, threatening to shoot her if she doesnt ignite
Richards hair. Richard never uses stunt men, its one of the reasons directors
like to work with him, but it means well only get one take, which always makes the
director nervous. He puts five cameras on the action, to make sure hell get the shot
he wants. Im standing in the wings, a fire extinguisher in my hand, the pin pulled,
ready. I watch as Madeleine flicks the lighter, the flint sparks, and the butane flame
jumps two inches from her thumb. Her hand trembles. Roth cocks the trigger on the pistol.
"No! No!" I scream, running into the set suddenly,
blasting yellow chemical foam from my hip, the cameras rolling. A security guard leaps and
tackles my legs from behind and I go down hard, landing right on the fire extinguisher,
the wind goes out of me and Im laying there spraying myself with chemicals gasping
for air as I watch Madeleines hand touch Richards gray locks and my signature
piece, my lifes workmy immortalitydisappears in flash of flame.