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The Scary, Mysterious Evolution of the Crew Cut

Kenneth has a taste for abstract/prose poetry as well as the comical side of life. 23-years of writing for a newspaper has served him well.

It had to start somewhere. It? What "it" am I talking about?

I am talking about the all-American, clean-cut, trustworthy crew cut. This razor-and-scissor hairstyle was not just a passing fad. According to a noted source, crew cuts were popular in the 1920s and 1930s among college students, particularly in the Ivy League. Crew cuts were often worn as summer haircuts for cooling off. MILITARY FACT: Men inducted into the military in World War II received G.I. haircuts, crew cuts, and a significant percentage continued to wear a crew cut while serving and after, as civilians. As long hair became popular in the mid 1960s, the crew cut and its variants waned in popularity through the 1970s. The crew cut began to come back in style in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the flat top crew cut being the most popular crew cut style during the 1980s. This part is arguable. I like crawling out on a limb, so this I am sharing I don't fear the ramifications. The sole reason why the crew cut begin to "wane" was all due to some slick, covert activities by the boys in the C.I.A.--some newbies looking for points. Why better way to kill a hairstyle than to publish hair propaganda? Propaganda has always worked.

You'd think like I did that the crew cut was just that, a crew cut. A hairstyle that defined the 1950s. And as you can read, this stubborn hairstyle for guys hung on long after Chuck Berry had retired. I do know that the crew cut was not anything to laugh at. But some did. I did, but when I seen the likes of Marine Corps grunts, college and pro football celebrities wearing crew cuts, I shut up. I was only trying to save my terrified butt. I suppose that there was just something about a man who wore a crew cut. I make my point by stating that the men's shave lotion, Aqua Velva, made a bundle or two with the slogan, "there's something about an Aqua Velva man."

It was more than a hairstyle for NFL celebrity icon's, Dick Butkus, middle linebacker, Chicago Bears and Johnny Unitas, quarterback, Baltimore Colts. The crew cut said a lot without saying a syllable. The crew cut was a badge of toughness and no wimp should try to sling light at the one wearing the crew cut or pay dearly. The crew cut was so famous that a 1950s foursome, The Crew-Cuts signed a record contract for Mercury Records and off they went. All because of that name, the Crew-Cuts.

Eddie Feigner said he only wanted to put on a good and not charge for autographs. Just look at that crw cut.

Eddie Feigner said he only wanted to put on a good and not charge for autographs. Just look at that crw cut.

In my Formative Years--Ages Four to Seven

I even wore a crew cut. But fame and riches never crawled into my pockets. Sometimes as the 1950s began to vacate the minds of young people, (me included), they wanted something different. Something new. So here came the Fab Four all the way from Britain. George, John, Paul and Ringo all wearing "mop cuts" and girls everywhere went wild. Not as much the young men, but ideas about long hair did enter these now-jealous boyfriends whose girlfriends had found four new toys: The Beatles.

Not that it was ever proven or taken to court, but Sinead O'Connor, the magnet for controversy, once ripped a poster of the Pope on a Saturday Night Live episode and then she went further. She shaved her head, but never said that it was a crew cut. And while Pop princess, Britney Spears, who was know for her wild antics a few years ago did the unbelievable. She took a pair of hair clippers and in the same genre as Demi Moore in G.I. Jane, lopped all of that gorgeous blond hair to the floor. She survived. And O'Connor survived. Both are living and very prosperous.

I can still recall watching those Army and Navy military personnel who had served their time and made their way to and out of my hometown, Hamilton, Ala., and how most of these brave soldiers all wore crew cuts. It had to have something to do about the crew cut, I'm telling you. Crew cut's were (and are not) flukes of nature or some radical, edgy experiment funded by the Fed's that went rogue. The Fed's have committed some rather undisciplined antics and tests over the years, (e.g. Agent Orange), but for them to go as far as brainwashing their soldiers to wear crew cuts in order to be successful in the ranks.

Eddie Feigner founder of The King and His Court. See how smooth his crew cut looks and performs.

Eddie Feigner founder of The King and His Court. See how smooth his crew cut looks and performs.

Yeah, man--Then it was the cats and Kitties in Hollywood

who helped to climb onto the "Crew Cut Bandwagon," by showing Elvis and his crew cut cronies as well as Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon with their own jazzy twist on "Beach Blanket Bingo," with extra's who pushed the crew cut. The argument could be made for the females on this day wearing and promoting the pony tail. And yes, there was even a female singing group by the same name. Fads like notions are great. Even useful, but all go with the sand castles in the tide. They are soon forgotten but well thought of.

But as you well remember, Marlon Brando's "Johnny Strabler," The Wild One, in 1953, there was only one guy in Brando's gang and that was Alvy Moore, "Pigeon," who later on starred (in part) as "Hank Kimball" on CBS' Green Acres. But alas, no other crew cuts were ever seen except by Moore. "Strabler's" love interest was Mary Murphy, "Katie Bleeker," and a young Lee Marvin who served as "Strabler's" co-gang leader, "Chino." No. Marvin did not sport a crew cut. Not even Mary Murphy. As everything in life, even the shady and stark, being possible, would it be possible that Alvy Moore was in fact playing Hollywood's first token crew cut? It's something that bears meditation.

Topps Gum Cards photo from Mercury Records  Crew-Cuts 1957 PN. This was a REAL singing group.

Topps Gum Cards photo from Mercury Records Crew-Cuts 1957 PN. This was a REAL singing group.

Then as the Crew Cut had Peaked

something mysterious and stealthy crawled down our streets in plain sight in broad open daylight. No one saw it coming and if they had saw this monster swaying its pelvis on wide-open speed, they would not have understood it. The crew cut had given its crown to the unsuspecting American public. The monster that slowly and surely took a cue from The Beatles, donned a hair length that was near agnostic and fell smack dab in the way of The Bible when the scripture, "don't you know that it is a shame for a man to wear long hair," was read, no young person in their teenage years would dare be themselves and keep to their crew cuts. But as more and more young people said farewell to the 4-H Clubs and Pledge of Allegiance each morning, a cooler, more laid-back look and lifestyle was walking upright.

Suddenly, as if day had went to night and back again, kids were wearing longer hair, walking slower and talking slang as if the Fifties had been reborn. "Yeah, cool man," was replaced by, "far out," and "dig it." All while the forsaken crew cut looked on. No one to lift it up or pump life into the strands. The crew cut could not compete with the rages of wild teenagers who sought new music to fill their virgin ears. The Crew-Cuts were no dinosaurs. Rock 'N Roll was taking center stage with only a handful of lights burning, but it the lights were all on Rock. Not Do Wap or Little Richard's suggestive "Uncle John" lyrics made for the cover of dancing.

Long hair was real. Pointed boots and turtleneck sweaters were real. And here to stay. Poor, poor crew cut now reduced to a thin crop of once-young and strong hairs, now just holding onto some spark of life. A lot of credit is to be issued to the crew cut. What would our fighting forces done without crew cuts? A lot of enemy soldiers would have easily spotted our boys in khaki whose hair was long and easily spotted by the Germans and Japanese. I was shocked to find out the true depth and influence of crew cuts in our nation.

As this sometimes, many-times scary evolution of the crew cut had not motivated itself onto the heads of young men, something else began to crop up from the sidewalks and garden areas of our suburbs. With the long hair going as fast as Bill Haley's Comets, an obvious, unmistaken rod was lifted to the skies and it was that of a young man taking a jar of Butch Wax that he had originally used on his crew cut, now used it to slick out his longer hair on the back of his head and top. What a cool cat. This was wilder and bolder than just a hair length stalking its way down our streets. Slick hair meant mean guys who did not like the law or speed limits. Liquor in pint bottles now started showing up in hip pockets of jeans worn by jeans and tee-shirts to complement their slick hair or "Duck Tails."

Johnny Unitas Baltimore Colts quarterback signs autograph at West Minster training camp.

Johnny Unitas Baltimore Colts quarterback signs autograph at West Minster training camp.

Rebels Born

by Hollywood film studios gave credence to James Dean whose hair was not that slick in the back, but did not take the time to part his hair in the Old Fashioned ways. Dean was virile. Dean was a good actor and a great date for some lonesome farm girl in Kansas who adored "Rebel Without a Cause." All Dean, most times had to do to win more of the herds of adoring teens was light his unfiltered cigarette, look through squinted eyes and then say one or two words. Dean was king, but sadly killed in a tragic auto accident that occurred on Sept. 30, 1955, near Cholame, California. Dean had previously competed in several auto racing events, and was traveling to a sports car racing competition when his car crashed at the junction of California State Route 46 (former 466) and California State Route 41.. You can see Dean's influence in George Lucas' many blockbuster films, "American Graffiti," 1973, with Paul Le Mat as "John," who wore the traditional tee and cigarettes rolled up in his left tee sleeve. What a cool guy. What a fighter. The majority of guys with Duck Tails and slick hair knew how to handle their fists.

De-idolized teens then in 1955 and later on when The Fab Four called it quits on April 10, 1970, were all whispering who does that leave now? A good question. A doggone good question. Both teens and adults need some sort of idol worship. It may be inside the moving parts of the teenage life, but it's their lives. And it is important, not as much understood by the older generations who still look at today's young and scratch their heads.

I did. You did. All because of the scary evolution of the cuddly, harmless crew cut.

© 2017 Kenneth Avery

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