In praise of the beard
In another day William Notman photographed some of the most exotic beards ever grown. Today writer Max Rosenfeld finds that his pays strange exciting dividends. Here, in pictures and in words, is an essay
hen I returned to Canada from Europe with a beard, eight years ago, it was quite handy for me to tell people on the telephone, “You’ll recognize me; I have a beard.” But recently I went to meet someone in the lobby of the King Edward Hotel in Toronto and another beard was there. When it happened again in a bar, then at an airport, 1 suddenly realized that a beard is no longer a novelty. In fact, I began noticing beards on all sides. The beard, in short, is staging a comeback.
Turn on television these days and what do you see but tufted Tommy Tweed telling some yarn, or Mitch Miller leading a band and looking like an Arabian sheik who lost his turban. Miller also has a radio program on CBS and many of his weekly guests have beards. So many radio and TV performers have beards that there’s a story that when a Hungarian musician, newly settled in Toronto, got lost on his way to the CBC, he saw a man with a beard and followed him to the studio.
Step into a bookstore and you’re surrounded by portraits of whiskers. Hemingway’s safari look is familiar by now; but as distinct as their writing are
of the most exotic beards ever grown
• Today writer Max Rosenfeld finds that his pays strange exciting dividends.
and in words, is an essay
In praise of the beard
the beard styles of Rex Stout and Farley Mowat. Journalists are taking to beards too. Arnold Edinborough, editor of the Kingston Whig-Standard, has gone in for a trim goatee, while Robertson Davies, the playwright who edits the Peterborough Examiner, just lets his grow.
And jurists: a frequent sight in the Supreme Court of Canada is a coal-black Van Dyke, constantly wagging and pointing, as Morris Schumiatcher QC, a prominent Regina lawyer, argues a case. In Toronto Magistrates’ Court the accused not only have Ralph Meakes’ head and heart arguing in their defense, but also his Count Sforza beard. The legal profession is usually among the last to be influenced by a trend, so this one must be well established.
The beard today has even ceased to be an emblem of age; the majority of beards are on younger men, and most old men are shaven. We used to think of beards as a sign of old age because seventy-five years ago they wete in vogue for all ages, and most memories don’t go back that far. But I’m pretty certain that the clean shave will soon be the mark of the elderly and the conservative.
There is a deep primitive urge in the male to let his whiskers grow every which way without ever taking thought for the morrow's razor blade. Plenty of men, making their grim rounds with smooth chins, sustain themselves with thoughts of holiday time when they can get on a boat for Europe and start growing a Left Bank barbouche, or take a canoe trip in Algonquin Park, sporting Kon Tiki whiskers, or sit on the cottage porch in a rattan chair, glass in hand, with the advanced five-o’clock shadow of a beachcomber. Before shaving, they all take snapshots to prove they could do it.
I brought my beard home to amuse my family. I intended to take it off but I noticed several things that made me realize I’d be parting with a magic wand.
The night I landed in New York it was impossible to get a hotel room because a flood of conventions had hit the city. At the reservation desk of the Biltmore, customers were being turned away when a manager turned up, ordered my bags taken care of and assured me that something would certainly be arranged. Later, he escorted me to a small ballroom
where a cot had been set up in the middle and my bags arranged on a table; the adjoining corridor was blocked off with screens to give me exclusive use of a public washroom. As the manager bowed and bade me good-night he said, “I hope you will like America.”
In Toronto I walked into Ryerson Institute of Technology and was hired immediately to take charge of the French department, strictly on the strength of my beard. I showed neither diploma nor certificate and all year no one presumed to check on whether I could actually speak the language.
When 1 entered a department store or a market a salesman would spot me instantly and rush up to wait on me. Unless a person was a big tipper he could patronize the same restaurant for years and be just another customer. If I went to the same place two or three times, the waiters produced the service only due an habitué.
But I feel foreign restaurants owe it to me. Several times I overheard people in them, looking in my direction, remark, “Must be a good place; their own people eat here.”
Of course, a lot depends on how the beard is worn.
Story and pictures continue overleaf
Royal to roguish, all kisses
tickled when beards ran riot
is the beard coming back? Some writers, editors, actors and musicians are wagging whiskered chins in support of a revival of the hairy age
In praise of the beard continued
I went into a bank, dressed in a sport shirt and slacks, to cash some travelers’ cheques, and slouched at the counter as 1 waited. The manager looked at me distrustfully, stepped up and firmly said, “No!” before I had a chance to tell him what I wanted. I’d have done better, I know, if I’d worn a necktie and jacket. '
In one week I got to know all the neighbors on my street, through the children. They had never seen a beard before and their straightforward questions often embarrassed their parents; 1 tried to assure them it was the only way children could learn and we got into friendly conversation.
With the beard, however, I couldn’t get away with anything; I had to be well-behaved of necessity. I couldn’t even raise my voice because I would be looked at. Once I was downtown and saw a headline, BEARDED SLASHER LOOSE IN CITY. I quickly jumped into a taxi and went home.
But conspicuousness, I told myself, thinking of Alexander the Great, is not only a burden but a responsibility. When Alexander ordered his soldiers to shave so that in the thick of battle the enemy could not seize his men by their beards and so destroy them, Alexander would not shave himself. His great full beard made him conspicuous; he knew the danger and the glory and he went, bearded, in the lead.
There is sufficient evidence on hand now to confirm that we are in for a bearded era, according to Dr. Edmund Carpenter, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto. But
he claims that all the bearded men are rationalizing: “The reason men are growing beards is that it’s the only thing women can’t do.”
Carpenter recently questioned twelve hundred students about rebirth. Only two men said they wanted to be reborn as women, but more than a third of the women wanted to be reborn as men. Questionnaires at American universities have revealed that more coeds than male students now smoke. Motivation Research Inc., a firm of industrial psychologists, says if this fact becomes known smoking will go out because it has ceased to be the masculine thing to do. (As a result cigarette manufacturers have switched to male models in their ads.)
And remember the old rimless glasses on beardless men? When women started wearing them, men turned to silver rims. Then women took to wearing silver rims and men took up horn-rimmed glasses. But it was no use, for women not only adopted the horn-rimmed ones, but covered them with rhinestones. How will she compete with the Hathaway patch? Blind herself in both eyes?
I also find it significant that although upward of ninety percent of the clientele of a Toronto restaurant, the Georgian Room, are women, the most popular item on the menu is the Businessmen’s Luncheon.
Women, says Carpenter, the anthropologist, not only want to do men’s work but want to beat men at it. And the latest trend? Why, women have become bull fighters. Advertisements show
matador pants, boleros and cummerbunds—for women!
Thus the rising generation is brought up in dense ignorance that there ever was such a thing as masculine authority. In that great source of juvenile education, the comic strip, do we find father held up as a person to respect, or husbands with any trace of authority? Jiggs is an abused worm. Dagwood is a bumbling moron. Television programs, cartoons, short stories, all teach children that the male is now an inferior sex.
Now it’s more than a coincidence, in my view, that the great days of the beard—the 1850s and thereafter—were also the great days of masculine dignity. Doctors, whose profession then required dignity and inscrutability more than medical knowledge, began cultivating their beards while they were still in medical school, so that they would be adequately badged by the time they began practicing. Patent-medicine and soap manufacturers had one or more bearded faces on their labels. The famous Smith Bros, trademark originated at this time. Beards of bank presidents and general managers reinforced the respect in which their institutions were held.
The playwright and birdwatcher, Lister Sinclair, figures he doesn’t need any more dignity; he refers to his beard as the Arab’s armpit. But when he appears on television he and the station are deluged with razor blades, electric-shaver advertisements, scissors and combs.
Personally, I find that most women like the beard, but not on “My continued on page 38
In praise of the beard continued from page 27
He married Marilyn Monroe, then grew a beard
Bob” or “My Harry.” The popular myth that it’s a barrier to romance has been exploded by Hollywood, a fashion leader in these matters. Kirk Douglas wooed and won his wife with his bold “Ulysses” beard. A world-wide sensation was created when America’s symbol of sex, Marilyn Monroe, married playwright Arthur Miller. He grew a beard on his honeymoon.
Queens and whiskers seem to go together. A certain sign of the beard’s comeback was the ascension to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II because at no time did the beard have the universal vogue in England that it came to have under the two noted queens, Elizabeth I and Victoria. In the first year of the reign of Elizabeth I a varied crop of beards appeared to characterize the whole age of Shakespeare. It’s by the grace of -Queen Victoria that British naval officers today are permitted to indulge in beards, only if accompanied by a mustache, and vice versa.
Peter the Great of Russia tried to abolish beards by taxing them. But when Catherine II came to power one of her first acts was to restore them to favor. When Louis VII of France removed his
beard his vivacious wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, couldn’t bear it. She divorced him and married Henry, Duke of Normandy, who became King of England.
In former times women had no choice but to admire shaggy men. Shaving was not the daily business it is today. Selfshaving did not become common until soap was cheap, plentiful and of good quality. The advent of the safety razor was an event of even greater importance. Shaving in medieval and Tudor times was a weekly performance, and a freshly shaven face was about as smooth as a toothbrush. This explains why the courtiers of Henry I let their beards grow: it was out of consideration for their concubines.
As great an authority as my wife, who has lived with the beard for nine years, says that no amount of technology can improve on the comfort of a beard. “Only the freshest shave is as agreeable,” she says, “but six hours after shaving the smooth face has become a prickly pear. A beard has the same softness all the time and there’s a sense of security in knowing what to expect.”
But men, who wear them, haven’t been as faithful as women to beards: on the
contrary they’ve been notoriously fickle. In the Victorian Age, when beards were common, a group of young artists, including Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson and Ernest Dowson, made a conscientious point of leading the return to the razor, just as many of their spiritual brethren (before and since) have been pioneers of the beard.
The Turks, who considered it a disgrace to cut the beard, kept their slaves shaved. But in the early 1800s, when they were popular in Russia, wearing beards was treason in Turkey and in Bavaria, where the king’s purge led to the forcible shaving of every man in the country.
Francis I of France grew a beard to hide scars on his face, and so beards became a court fashion. But he intended to keep the beards of all lesser folk in check. An Edict of Beards in 1523 forbade French magistrates and lawyers to appear in court with beards.
Today, more than four centuries later, some similar taboos apply. For growing a beard a twenty-two-year-old Toronto bank messenger was fired. “The assistant manager gave me no caution at all," he reported. “All he said was, ‘You don’t think you’re going to get away with this, do you?’ The next day I got my walking papers.”
Whenever anyone gets nasty about my beard he is never alone, always with a crowd. Other beards tell me that their experience is the same. At a party a Canadian Press correspondent. Bill Boss, who has a dashing red beard, was overcome by several men and held down while one side of his face was shaved. He grew another beard and became recognizable again.
What happened to Boss is a reaction well known to zoologists. If a ribbon is placed around the neck of one turkey in a pen, the rest will gang up and pick it to death.
But a beard occasionally can be a boon. Returning from the U. S. some time ago by train, I began to open my bags for Customs’ inspection. “Oh, don’t bother, Rabbi,” the inspector said. He tipped his cap and got involved with other passengers before I could correct the impression or inform him that most rabbis today are beardless. Only orthodox rabbis and their congregations continue to adhere to Leviticus xix, 27: “Ye shall not round off the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” Most orthodox Jews look unmistakably associated with the Bible.
According to St. Cyprian, in the third century, it was a sin for a Christian to cut off his beard; for his authority he quoted Leviticus. Shaving was established among the Romans by Constantine the Great at the same time that he established Christianity as the state religion. Then, as Christianity slowly spread northward, it brought with it the habits of the Latin peoples, and gradually shaving became characteristically Christian and the beard a sign of evil.
Not long ago I began to have suspicions that this prejudice may have found its way to adherents of the Hebrew religion. I was teaching in a Jewish Sunday school in Toronto when the beard came to the attention of the board of directors. They discussed it at a meeting. They were concerned about its effect on the children, the questions they would ask about it and how the parents would explain it. “What’s he trying to prove?” one of them asked, annoyed. The rabbi pacified them by saying that he had personal knowledge of its being a French beard, grown in Paris.
Many men ask why I wear a beard. They are astonished when I, in turn, ask why they shave. They find it perfectly
natural to stand in front of a mirror and scrape fresh stubble from their faces. Shaving is a psychological habit and such things are notoriously subject to change. In ancient Rome, for example, grief was expressed by cutting off the beard; for if life had ceased to be worth living or could only be continued in shame and dishonor, of what significance was a beard, the token of manly pride and wellbeing? But in a later age, when to shave was the fashion, the growing of a beard became for many the evidence of mourning, as though the wearer had valued life so little that he could not even be bothered to remove this objectionable growth.
Men of the Middle Ages who thought highly of their beards bleached them or dyed them red. When starched, elaborately curled beards were the fad, gentlemen slept with cardboard boxes strapped to their heads so their beards wouldn't become disarranged.
Puritan pamphleteers denounced beards as vanities, and they were outlawed during the dictatorship of clean-shaven
Cromwell. They grew again with the Restoration, but then came the “wig.” As hair piled up on the head, beards went out. Due to this change beards were few and far between by Nelson’s day. But by Waterloo beards' were back. And it was the army that set the fashion. Guardsmen were jealous when officers in less famous regiments copied their flourishing mustaches and flamboyant beards. By the 1850s razors went into the discard and vendors of beard rejuvenating lotions swarmed onto the market. By I860 the beard became so important in the U. S. that Abraham Lincoln occupied valuable time during the presidential elections of that year by staying at home to grow one. He got the idea from eleven-year-old Grace Bedell, who wrote him, “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be president.” By the end of World War I the beard had become such a rarity that D. B. Wyndham Lewis, in London, was able to launch a game that for many years was considered a standard pastime. The game was Beaver. Lewis, a writer for the London Daily Express, was hard up for a story one day when, on the street, he saw a man with a long white beard, riding
past on a motorcycle. At his typewriter the ingenious Lewis wrote, “All England has gone mad over a new game called Beaver.” Thereupon he invented the game, which went like this: you walk or ride along a street and score all the beards you spot on your side of the street. Your opponent does the same on the opposite side. An ordinary Beaver scores ten points. A red beard is a King Beaver and counts fifty.” In those days one of London’s busiest Beavers was Augustus John, whose generous King Beaver figured daily on the tally sheets of addicts. Bernard Shaw was runner-up, but as his beard soon turned white, scoring a nominal ten points, his popularity declined.
The children in my neighborhood know none of the joys of shouting, “Beaver! Beaver!” The game has gone the way of jousting matches and competitions of jumping frogs.
The matter-of-factness with which children accept beards seems to suggest that conditions are ripe for a general revival of Beaver (in Hollywood it is called Airedale). To cope with the new crop, one enterprising importer has introduced a Swiss electric razor. One end of the gadget removes short whiskers without damaging the beard, the other end clips long hairs, preventing a shaggy edge, which to a beard is as bad as a five-o’clock shadow. A barbershop in New . York’s Rockefeller Center called De Zemler’s, boasts more than a hundred beard styles; bewhiskered customers appear regularly for shaping and trimming.
A beard also can be of considerable commercial value. The beard belonging to Commander Edward Whitehead, which made a British tonic water famous, is insured for over ten thousand dollars with Lloyd’s of London. It is protected against “riot, civil commotion” but not for damages incurred in “war, acts of God or a state of unnatural exuberance.”
To give a special tone to product advertising it has become practice to have the produce associated with a suave gentleman who wears a beard. That’s how vodka and expensive suits are advertised. In this case, the beard is like a Chinese mandarin’s long fingernail. It’s for those above the mob; impossible for a working man to grow.
Inability to grow a beard, of course, need not prevent you from wearing one. This fact was brought out when an English manufacturer of false beards and mustaches, Bert Godwin, reported a remarkable upswing in business. It was a surprise to Godwin too that the bulk of his trade was no longer from stage and film companies, but from men who simply wanted to wear beards.
Even false beards aren’t new, however. One of Egypt’s pharaohs, mentioned in the Talmud, had a beard an ell (forty-five inches) long. Certainly sounds like a falsie to me.
Most beginners are satisfied with something far less grandiose, but they find that confidence grows with their beards.
I used to be timid. Going into a roomful of strange people was an ordeal. Receptionists terrified me. But when I grew my beard I soon noticed I terrified them, instead, and I overcame my own timidity trying to put them at ease. Even hardboiled executives are thrown off guard by my whiskers and are easier to handle as a result.
Whenever I’m in company comprising more than one beard I can always tell whether the other one is fairly new. The owner usually avoids looking at me, although the wives exchange knowing smiles. I feel a little uneasy myself because I start wondering, “Do I really look like that?”