Apropos of nothing this morning — a short survey of a surprisingly small cul de sac in the realm of comedy grooming: the crew cut. I’d always considered it a principal accompaniment to nerd couture, but drilling down into it I’ve uncovered surprisingly few examples. One thinks of the crew cut as a signature style of the 1950s but it’s always been a pretty radical statement, hence (one surmises) its traditional association with comedy for those of us of a certain age. Kids with crew cuts (like Wally Dow on Leave it to Beaver) were pretty common, but adults less so. To clarify: a crew cut is different from a buzz cut, or fully shaved head, so Curly Howard is absent from this list. The buzz cut once had a suggestion of the mental patient about it; that was the gag with Curly. Nowadays, both of these styles, or variations on them, are so common as to be unremarkable, so I realize I am dating myself with this post. I grew up in the era of Dazed and Confused, when any boy who had hair shorter than Rapunzel was roundly ridiculed — for real. Punk, disco and the Reagan era changed all that. At any rate, just click on links below to learn more about the crew cutted comedians in question, unless of course it is your instinct to flee instead.
Jerry enhanced his “awkward adolescent” image with this look, pulling it off for about a decade. His short, fuzzy hair (and his behavior) often drew comparisons to apes and monkeys, hence the publicity photo above. (Jerry’s hairstyle was imitated of course by Sammy Petrillo, but surprisingly not Arnold Stang, who achieved his nerd effect solely with voice, glasses and bow tie. Nor properly speaking does Pee-wee Herman sport one, near as I can tell. His hair is just shortly cropped.) By the 1960s, Lewis evolved the greaser/Vegas look we associated with Jerry II.
In contrast with Lewis, George Gobel NEVER outgrew the crewcut. By the 1970s he seemed to be one of the few people on earth who still wore one.
Murray had been the youngest of the emcees at the Palace, and retained the youthful affect throughout his career.
Initially a radio personality, Moore proved doubly distinctive once audiences got an eyeful of him on television.
More an emcee than a comedian, Bill Cullen gave off a “Cold War bookworm” vibe in the early days, though later he evolved with the times and let his mane grow. As with Moore, you’ll have to be of a certain age to even remember who he was. I knew them both from the game show To Tell the Truth in the 1970s.
Honorable mention goes to stage and screen actor David Wayne. Though he wore his many different ways both before and after, for a good chunk of the ’50s, he was rockin’ a Gobel.
I guess if the most handsome man in motion pictures was really associated with this nerdy haircut you’d know more about it. But he did have a brief phase, when he starred in the great Howard Hawks comedy Monkey Business (1952). Grant’s character was a scientist, and in plenty of scenes he augments the egghead effect with coke-bottle glasses. Hawks had produced (and many believe back-seat directed), The Thing from Another World the previous year. That picture is ALL scientists; he clearly had that look very much in mind. At any rate, so well established was Grant’s reputation as an Adonis that he could afford to effect this highly non-glamorous look for one picture.
Hee Haw comedian Junior Samples was perhaps that show’s most daring political statement, unconscious or no. To look like this during the 1960s and ’70s was dangerously close to creating a visual identification with the segregationists who were terrorizing and embarrassing the country every night on the six o’clock news. Naturally, Samples was a figure of fun on the show — even the Nashville crowd seemed to be laughing AT him, but in retrospect one can’t help but suspect an “Okie from Muskogee” defiance in his inclusion. A crew cut in the hippie era was a throwing down of the gauntlet.
Urkel (Jaleel White)
Well, I can’t include someone as white as Junior Samples without balancing it out with someone as…well, white…as Urkel. This one is an honorable mention of course, decades after the other gents we have discussed, but it is an undeniable variation on a theme, and…um, progress of sorts? Naturally Urkel’s look raises many philosophical questions. And I for one have enough hot air in me to devote a book to it. Family Matters aired during the Kid ‘n’ Play era — just about every African American male was wearing one shaved hairstyle or another by this point. So much so that nowadays it may be hard for you to think outside that box, forgetting for a minute that afros, cornrows, straightened pompadours, etc have not only existed but flourished on this planet. But what does it mean for a NERD to have such hair? In this context the shaved look has lost its meaning. The producers have gone to the Halloween shop for their nerd conception. In reality, an actual social misfit in the late ’80s and ’90s would look far more out of step in the grooming department, wouldn’t he? Haha, but who am I second guess success? Urkel was a popular phenomenon second only to the Fonz. Contemplate that as you guzzle your hair tonic this morning.