Did anyone in the 1940s have a beard? Certainly not if they were actors – unless they played a villainous cowboy or something.
I ask this because I am currently beardless. I’m in a play, “Arsenic & Old Lace,” which opens at The Lyric on Thursday (get your tickets!). My director has decided that my character, Mortimer Brewster, should be clean-shaven.
The play is set in the early 1940s, so it’s the right call, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. This is the third time I’ve had to suffer thusly for the sake of art. I was also sans beard in “The 39 Steps,” which was set in the 1930s in England, and “Last Train to Nibroc,” set during World War II.
I was holding out a bit of hope that I might be able to keep my beard for “Arsenic,” if only because it would make it slightly less obvious how less attractive I am than Cary Grant, who played Mortimer in the movie version.
When I told my friend Maddie – my “Nibroc” co-star – that I was shaving for this play, she remarked that last time I did so, “You looked like a giant baby.” Ouch. She’s not wrong, though.
I’ve always had a baby face. In my high school senior portrait, I look like a 12-year-old. I began growing a goatee in college just as soon as I was able, and then I finally had enough sense a few years ago to go full beard.
People who know me always get a little freaked out when they see me beardless. Or they just laugh, like many of my co-workers did when I walked in bald-faced last week. My cohort Dillon saw me and nearly choked on his Mountain Dew. My girlfriend is having trouble adjusting to my hairless visage, saying repeatedly, “You’re not my boyfriend.”
She hasn’t dumped me. Yet.
Now, back to my opening question about beards in the 1940s. They were not en vogue at the time, for whatever reason, although mustaches were fairly common. And if someone did have a beard, it was probably an older gentleman, because old people have never given a hoot what anyone thinks.
Of course, the 1940s brought us into World War II, and being in the military meant you had to be clean-shaven, and so those who served continued to fully shave after the war. In fact, having a beard was generally looked down upon.
Being clean-shaven was often a requirement for getting a job or playing on a sports team or living under your parents’ roof. Beards were for hobos and weirdos.
Then the hippies came along, and thank God. I can’t imagine living in a society where beards are frowned upon. I only shave my neckline about once a week as it is; I can’t imagine having to shave my whole dang face seven days a week.
Actors today have no problem sporting beards. George Clooney, for instance, has a bushy gray beard in his most recent movie, “The Midnight Sky,” and if the Cary Grant of today can do it, then anyone can.
Brad Locke is senior sports writer for the Daily Journal. Contact him on Twitter @bradlocke or via email at email@example.com.