A Tribute to Gene Kelly’s Toupee

Read Time: 1 minute(s)

Gene Kelly wore a hairpiece, actually lots of hairpieces.

Now, before you go hatin’ and poking fun at Gene, you should know that many of your classical Hollywood favorites also wore rugs: Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, John Wayne, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Sean Connery, Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, Yul Brynner, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Van Heflin, and Fred MacMurray to name a few.

In fact, this Time column from 1954 claims that “nine out of ten male stars over the age of 35 [wore] ‘hair additions’ on the screen.” And what’s more, most of them didn’t care. Sheesh, any grown man in the ’40s and ’50s could order one from a magazine.

Yes, classical Hollywood stars wore toupees both on- and offscreen, and sometimes offscreen they wore no hairpiece at all. For example, here’s Gene without his partial hairpiece and here hobnobbing with Grace Kelly at the Cannes Film Festival.

Hollywood hairpieces aren’t just things of the past though. Several current film and television stars also don toupees both on- and offscreen.

See, for instance, John Travolta, Nicholas Cage, Hugh Laurie, Burt Reynolds, Bruce Willis, Ted Danson, Matthew McConaughey (yep, some of that wavy hair belongs to someone else!), and William Shatner. And hey, let’s not forget about all the women with their weaves and hair extensions.

In any rate, as this newspaper article suggests, Gene Kelly’s toupees must’ve been rather hardcore to withstand all that dancing and spinning. And you know what, they also looked good. They’d better; according to the Saturday Evening Post (1980), Gene’s “hair additions” were written into his MGM contract.

That said, if one looks reaaaaalllly close at Gene’s hair in the On the Town photo I’ve featured above, one can see the lace front of his partial hairpiece. (Thanks to Balding Celebrities for pointing this out.) Okay, stop squinting; I’ve blown it up for you.

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PhD. Film, Shakespeare, TV. Child of pop culture. Advocate of social media. Gene Kelly junkie. Co-editor of Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century. DePaul University.
  • Marc Orr

    Gene's rugs were truly the work of a master craftsman, but Humphrey Bogart's in The Maltese Falcon remains the finest I've ever seen.

    • http://www.kellimarshall.net/ Kelli

      I'll have to look at Bogie's up close next time I watch!

  • http://twitter.com/mattthomas Matt Thomas

    I thought this – surely the definitive post on the subject – would burst my bubble. But no, it just made me love Gene even more.

    • http://www.kellimarshall.net/ Kelli

      I need to add a "like" comment button. :)

  • Jennifer

    I don't have to zoom in this time, because I remember noticing the lacy front of the rug the first time I found the picture. I was, um, in the habit of looking closely at pics of Gene. 😉 The rug has never really bothered me, though sometimes I wish it hadn't been quite so plastered to his head. We all like a little scruff from time to time. I've always surmised that the last film to feature his natural hair was ANCHORS AWEIGH. By the time he left Metro, and did films like MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR, you can see the production values in terms of stuff like toupees had plummeted. It's not a nice lookin' rug.

    I do wish he had eschewed the toupee in his later years. It looks less legit than the ones they made him at MGM and there's nothing remotely unnatural about an octogenarian being a bit thin on top. Look at Sean Connery – it doesn't seem to affect his masculinity.

    Off topic: The article you linked to ("Kelly with no grace") is one of the oddest pieces on Gene I've ever read. She clearly doesn't get him at all. Oh, and the nonsense about his bottom sticking out too far? Haha! Gene was about power and athleticism. Graceful line? Pfft. Perfect piffle. Who needs it when it comes to him? Lord, what fools these mortals be!

    • http://www.kellimarshall.net/ Kelli

      Exactly! The one in Marjorie Morningstar was no good, and again you're right about the hairpieces he wore in the '70s and '80s (like this one, for example); they were so unnatural looking. He didn't have as talented makeup/costume folks at that point, I guess?

      And re: the lack of clean lines in Kelly's (dance) figure, I agree: nonsense! Maybe that matters to ballet or ballroom dancers? I don't know where the columnist was coming from. In any case, you know @girloftheplains would back you on that "nonsense" as well (her favorite hashtag = #TheMajesticAss). :)

      • Jennifer

        I'd be willing to cut the columnist some slack on the "bottom" comment, but she was kind of nasty toward Gene in other respects, too. Oh well. I'm baffled, but to each her own.

        The link to the pic you posted didn't work for me; when I click it says I'm unauthorized to view it. :-/

        Marc, ran across this site that may interest you (and Kelli).


  • http://twitter.com/mattthomas/status/241746687515828224/ @mattthomas

    @KelliMarshall Pretty sure it’s a rug not plugs à la http://t.co/X6zYGRWu. Remember reading something about him donning it a year ago or so.

  • http://twitter.com/GeneKellyFans/status/278616862252752896/ @GeneKellyFans

    I’ve been thinking about Gene Kelly’s hairpieces today. For those who didn’t know… http://t.co/Ag55e1wY

  • http://twitter.com/pitythebackseat/status/278623429740085249/ Pitythebackseat (@pitythebackseat)

    Hollywood glamour RT @GeneKellyFans: I’ve been thinking about Gene Kelly’s hairpieces today. For those who didn’t know… http://t.co/fQZvAnk9

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