POMATUM POTS AND BRUSHES.
The Theatrical Hairdresser’s Cruel Revenge.
The theatrical hairdresser generally has a shop in some street which is in a transition condition from that of residence to business. His establishment is on the parlor floor of what was once a handsome mansion, and he has had the two front windows knocked into one, to accommodate a big affair in which he displays wigs of all sorts, false hair of all colors and no end of an assortment of adjustable beards, whiskers and moustaches. In addition to these he deals in cosmetic powder and mysterious face washes, which he purchases by the gallon at a drug store for next to nothing and retails at a profit of several thousand per cent, as his own secret composition. He also rents beards and wigs out, but as he has exaggerated ideas as to rates, it is a little cheaper to purchase outright than to lease from him. Still, he does a heavy business in the leasing line with the amateurs, who not only hire all their capillary decorations from him, but also employ him on the occasion of their performance to attend on them and make them up for their parts.
His professional connection is his most interesting one, however. At the back of his shop is a little room strongly scented with fancy soaps and perfumes. In it, of an afternoon, he is to be found operating on the heads of ladies who have a free-and-easy manner and chat about scenes, hits, calls before the curtain and the like to other ladies who wait their turn very much as men wait in a barber shop on Sunday morning.
When his afternoon’s work is done, and the last of his fair customers has gone away with her hair elaborated into artistic and bewildering forms,
The Artist Prepares for His Evening’s Work.
This consists in the packing up of an endless assortment of grease paints, chalk balls, oil pots, pomatum pots, scent vials, scissors, tweezers, combs and brushes, not to mention a hundred or more of other objects in a morocco-covered case. An hour before the curtain rises he passes the back doorkeeper and vanishes in the gloom of the unlighted stage.
It you happened into the dressing-room of the leading lady or the star, fifteen minutes later, you would find him hard at work. The lady herself, in her corsets, with a towel over her shoulders and her heels on the dressing-table, is seated pulling at a cigarette or lazily conning her part. While the hairdresser performs his work, the waiting maid moves about arranging her mistress’ attire for its coming use. When the momentous task is accomplished, all my lady has to do is to slip into her dress and wait for her call.
Having finished the customer who, by reason of her superior position, claims precedence, the hairdresser extends his artistic favor to such of her less important sisters as have not been dressed during the day. Then he devotes himself to the gentlemen.
The leading man wants a shave, and gets it in locomotive time. The lover must have his hair patted in the middle and his moustache waxed; it is scarcely hinted at than done. The comedian’s wig needs dressing–it is brushed into form while he is making up his nose. The hair dresser is never idle. If he has nothing else to do, he may be lending slicks of cosmetic and balls of grease paint out of his box to people who have forgotten theirs.
The hairdresser does not take much Interest in the drama, except that which his instinct of business inspires him with. But on opera he comes out strong.
If he can insinuate himself into the service of some singer, no matter how humble, he is in his glory. He performs his professional duties toward him or her with the loving tenderness of a true artist. I know a tonsorial artist who in his day was the special hair-dresser of Grisi, Mario, and other famous singers of both sexes. He knows more stories about them than their biographers do, and is always telling them. One of his favorites is to the effect that he used to preserve all the combings from the heads of his patrons in the operatic line, which he made up as souvenirs, tied to a card with pink, blue or whatever colored ribbon their one-time owner favored.
The Mementos Commanded a Ready Sale
among the admirers of the divinities they represented. At one time there was such a run on the hair of one singer that he could not supply the demand legitimately. Happily, however, his wile’s crowning glory was of the same color, so he cut it off close and got enough for it in retail lots to open one of the finest shops in New York.
At least, so he told me; and as he was shaving me at the time I did not like to run the risk of impugning his veracity.
There is a legend current in the craft of a theatrical hairdresser who fell in love with a popular actress he was frequently called upon to beautify. He confessed his devouring passion on his knees but she laughed him to scorn. More than that, she insisted on his continuing his ministrations to her and made him the butt of her heartless gibes while he was devoting himself to enhance her loveliness. The iron entered his soul and he swore vengeance. One night, when he had to prepare her for a most important part, he surpassed himself in the splendor of her crowning decoration. Having finished, he anointed her golden locks with a compound of a peculiarly fascinating aromatic odor, which so attracted his callous enslaver’s notice that she asked him what it was.
“It is a mixture of my own, madame,” he replied. “I call it the last breath of love.”
The actress remarked that she would call him a fool, and he bowed and withdrew. A few minutes later, when she appeared behind the footlights, instead of the roar of applause which she expected, she was hailed with a tempestuous scream of laughter.
Her discarded lover had had his revenge. He had dyed her golden locks with a chemical which turned pea green as soon as it was dry. She dresses what hair she has left herself now, while he is boss of a five-cent shaving emporium, never speaks to any lady but his landlady, and has a Chinaman to do his washing. But he buys a seat in the front row every time she plays, and feasts his eyes on the remainder of his vengeance.
The Boston [MA] Globe 13 January 1884: p. 9
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: No doubt the would-be lover found this a most piquant revenge, despite his demotion to the five-cent emporium. Mrs Daffodil suggests that the verdant-haired actress could have easily made a career change to the circus where brightly-tinted hair is desirable, if not a requisite. She also would have made a brilliant mermaid-in-a-tank attraction.
As for the opera-lover, one hopes that he compensated his wife for the loss of her hair with a selection of stylish wigs and a holiday in Paris.
Mrs Daffodil has previously written about a noted theatrical wig-maker and a Court Hairdresser. Other discussions of historic barbering and hair-dressing may be found in this page’s “Hair and Hair-dressing” category.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.