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Ellis Henican Ellis Henican
Setting Free A Bald Head

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Love Among The Ruins
Sep 10, 2002

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September 15, 2002

Two big stories broke in the past week or so on the famous-hair beat. And you know how female-dominated that turf used to be.

Well, stand back, ladies. Score one for the gentlemen. The boy-hair coverage beat the girl-hair coverage by a whole lot more than a follicle.

Who says we're not making progress as a people?

Is this a blow for gender equality - or what?

Without a peep of warning, Rudy Giuliani stepped into the sunshine last Tuesday with his legendary - and widely ridiculed - comb-over nowhere in sight. In place of the old see-through head flap was a surprising, bald-is-beautiful comb-back.

Judging by the jaw-dropping reaction, you'd have thought the ex-mayor had decided to move back to Flatbush and run his Uncle Leo's old bookie-bar. That's the kind of buzz his 'do change generated.

Not just pieces in the New York papers. Not just smart-aleck snickering around City Hall. All of a sudden, TV comedy writers were busy again on fresh Rudy-hair gags. Editors at the Washington Post even ordered up the before-and-after headshots for a section-front takeout: "With Rudy, Less Becomes Much More."

Which left Hillary Clinton running an unfamiliar second in the politician 'do-stakes. Not that she was complaining, mind you.

On Sept. 5, Hillary had turned up at a Washington labor event with her hair combed back. Not Rudy-style, to be sure. Hillary actually has hair to comb back. But the Internet's Drudge Report detected a whole new "Early American" make-over: Hillary as suffragette, posing like Susan B. Anthony for the head of a coin - the "Hillary nickel," perhaps.

But this limp story wasn't worth five cents of style buzz. It pretty much curled up and died right there.

Only the Hillary-hating Washington Times took the bait. "Much Ado about a 'Do," the paper crowed. Alone.

The "Hillary nickel" hasn't appeared in public since.

All of which led to a profound philosophical question: "If a female politician changes her hairstyle and no one notices, did it ever happen at all?"

Clearly, no.

Not when America's most famous comb-over is at stake.

The nuances of that are just too hairy for a towel-and-run guy like me. Which is why, in cosmetological territory like we're in here, I must rely on the expert guidance of America's leading scholar of the male bald head.

That would be my friend Gersh Kuntzman, Brooklynite, social raconteur and author of the 2001 classic "HAIR!: Mankind's Historic Quest To End Baldness" (Random House).

Gersh was just about hyperventilating when I finally tracked him down at week's end.

"This is big," he declared. "In the hair world, this is about as big as it gets."

And how big is that?

"This will do for politicians what Michael Jordan did for basketball," said Gersh, whose own head is covered by a thick growth of presumably natural, dark, curly hair.

"We are talking here about the reinvention of Rudy Giuliani," Gersh said. "We don't know yet what that reinvention will be. But we know something is coming. Taking back your baldness - whether it's shaving your head or giving up the comb-over - has always indicated a major change is on the way."

It's such a big step, allowing those thinning locks to lay forlornly by the ears, freed from their hopeless quest to cover the uncoverable.

The balding man has finally recognized, absurdly late perhaps, that - gulp, swallow, breathe deep - the comb-over has failed.

"Let's face it," Gersh said. "You're going bald. Everybody knows it. Everybody but you. The comb-over never works."

All that's left is the whispering of friends and colleagues and - for a sufficiently public man - the abuse of late-night comedians.

How can you tell when Rudy Giuliani is in love with you? David Letterman asked in one of his Top 10 lists.

His comb-over is in the shape of a heart.

Who needs that?

Not the post-comb-over Rudy.

So why did it take so long for the top of his head to come out and play?

Gersh has actually studied this.

"Guys with comb-overs simply don't accept that they look bad," he said. "To them, the comb-over is the last shred of dignity they have. The bald man is totally unable - and this is not his fault - totally unable to see it looks ridiculous.

"It is such a slow progression. He looks in the mirror and he tells himself, 'I still have my hair.' The top of the forehead is so far back, there is no top of the forehead."

But the great thing about comb-overs is they need not be permanent. It's never too late for the bald head beneath to be freed.

"This is as important to who Rudy is as when he arrested those guys on Wall Street when he was in the prosecutor's office," America's leading bald scholar said. "It is a defining moment. It is a statement of purpose. It's Gloria Gaynor singing, 'I Will Survive.'"

Even without the hair.

Email: henican@newsday.com

Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.

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