Saturday 10 October 2009
Dylan Jones: While many have endured plastic surgery in order to look like Elvis, no one has ever been able to match his hair
Talk of the Town
Teenage is all about hair. Although Elvis Presley's haircut is considered to be one of the most influential pop icons of the 20th century, it was actually copied from Tony Curtis. Presley wore Royal Crown hair products during high school to make his blondish locks appear darker, but it wasn't until he saw Curtis in the 1949 film City Across the River that the singer adopted the greased duck-tail. Dyed blue-black, covered in grease, with truck-driver sideburns trailing his cheeks, Elvis finally had his five inches of buttered yak wool.
To middle-class white America, Presley was the devil incarnate, a Southern white boy who danced and sang like a black. He was threatening because he was so flagrantly dirty, owning, among other things, the world's sexiest haircut. That hair was Presley's trademark, his strength and an accessory that only added to his animal sexuality. In Elvis World, Jane and Michael Stern's 1987 homage to the King, they describe his crowning glory: "Like the man to whose scalp it is attached, the hair breaks loose onstage. Appearing first as a unitary loaf of high-rise melted vinyl etched with grooves along the side, it detonates at the strike of the first chord." While many continue to endure plastic surgery in order to look like Elvis, no one has even been able to reproduce his thatch.
Famously, when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on 6 January 1957, Elvis was shot only from the waist up, because his erotic dancing had caused uproar all across the US. In reality it made hardly any difference, because libidinous teenage girls could still see Presley's hair.
Elvis kept his mousey locks dyed black all through his career, originally to carve himself an image, then because he thought it photographed better on film (it did), and finally because he started to go grey. When he died the hair underneath his blue-black dye was almost completely white.
As for Tony Curtis, well, he came to detest the attention paid to his looks. "I thought my very gift was something so mystical and magical that by cutting my hair I would be gone. I could understand what Samson felt. I was afraid if they cut my hair they would cut my talent."
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