To lift viewers’ spirits, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) devoted yesterday’s schedule (Sept. 11) to films that celebrate New York City. Among the pictures shown:
- 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, 1933)
- Guys and Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1955)
- The Clock (Vincente Minnelli, 1945)
- Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
- On the Town (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1949)
On the Town is not my favorite Gene Kelly musical, but I am still a sucker for its opening number: three sailors bound off their ship in full/hot navy regalia, howl like a pack of horny coyotes, and burst simultaneously into “New York, New York, what a wonderful town.” But this is not why you’re here. Presumably, you want the scoop on Gene Kelly’s rug, so here goes.
Yes, Gene Kelly wore a hairpiece, actually lots of hairpieces. Now, before you go hatin’ and poking fun at Gene, you should know that many of your classical Hollywood favorites also wore rugs: Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, John Wayne, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Sean Connery, Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, Yul Brynner, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Van Heflin, and Fred MacMurray to name a few. In fact, this Time column from 1954 claims that “nine out of ten male stars over the age of 35 [wore] ‘hair additions’ on the screen.” And what’s more, most of them didn’t care. Sheesh, any grown man in the ’40s and ’50s could order one from a magazine. Yes, classical Hollywood stars wore toupees both on- and offscreen, and sometimes offscreen they wore no hairpiece at all. For example, here’s Gene without his partial hairpiece and here hobnobbing with Grace Kelly at the Cannes Film Festival.
Hollywood hairpieces aren’t just things of the past though. Several current film and television stars also don toupees both on- and offscreen. See, for instance, John Travolta, Nicholas Cage, Hugh Laurie, Burt Reynolds, Bruce Willis, Ted Danson, Matthew McConaughey (yep, some of that wavy hair belongs to someone else!), and William Shatner. And hey, let’s not forget about all the women with their weaves and hair extensions.
In any rate, as this newspaper article suggests, Gene Kelly’s hairpieces must’ve been rather hardcore to withstand all that dancing and spinning. And you know what, they also looked good. They’d better; according to the Saturday Evening Post (1980), Gene’s “hair additions” were written into his MGM contract. That said, if one looks reaaaaalllly close at Gene’s hair in the On the Town photo I’ve featured above, one can see the lace front of his partial hairpiece. (Thanks to Balding Celebrities for pointing this out.) Okay, stop squinting; I’ve blown it up for you.