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Dye It and Deny It--or Shine the Silver

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Playboy babe magnet Hugh Hefner has never done it. “Good Day L.A.” anchorman Steve Edwards stopped doing it about a year-and-a-half ago. And fashion critic Mr. Blackwell did it only once and then shut himself in his home, not to be seen outdoors for three months.

Never--we repeat, never--say “dye” to these guys. For them, what you see on their noggins is what you get: an au naturel head of distinguished gray hair. For many men, the question of whether they color their coif is so personal--we’re talking deep-rooted here--that accusations of doing so may even lead to legal action.

Take the recent flap over the dark ‘do of Germany’s Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder which many seem to think should be more salt than pepper, especially for a seasoned man of 58.

Schroeder denies he dyes. Don’t taint his image with tint, don’t ruin his reputation with rinse--this man has filed affidavits claiming his brown hair has never been color-enhanced. Now he’s threatening to sue news organizations that have quoted an image consultant saying the chancellor’s credibility would improve if he “would not color away his gray hairs.” His Berlin stylist, Udo Walz, wants the world to know that Schroeder does sport gray hairs, and if you get “within 10 centimeters” of the man’s head, you can see them.

Still, whether the chancellor is committing follicular fraud or not, we ask, why would a man, particularly an older gent, re-roof his head? Or not? Naturally, we’re dying to know.

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For answers we turn to experts, among them, colorists, hairdressers, an author-historian, and psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo, who counsels men experiencing midlife and career problems, and knows many who live and dye in L.A.

“It’s very common for my male clients to do things like get hair plugs and dye their hair--it’s their response to aging. They want to make themselves seem more hip, reinvigorate themselves sexually,” Palumbo says, adding, “We are so father-starved in the culture and yet no one wants to appear their age.”

His take on Schroeder? “Let’s face it, you don’t become a political leader without a great amount of narcissism. You still want to look hot for the secretaries, you know.”

History professor Lynne Luciano of Cal State Dominguez Hills and author of “Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America” (Hill & Wang, 2001) says “there’s still lots of prejudice against men dying their hair.” She says it’s perfectly fine for men to get Botoxed, bags removed from their eyes, liposuction or even their southbound foundations lifted. But when it comes to dyeing, “it seems very vain and has retained a stigma because it is so ‘female’ ... it rarely looks good on a man.”

Just think (or try not to) of Bob Dole, Dick Clark, James Brown or Johnny Cash, and you get the picture. Ronald Reagan always denied he hued his hair. But author Kitty Kelley scooped the world and revealed in her unauthorized biography about Nancy Reagan more than 10 years ago that the president’s gray roots were dyed regularly--in secret, of course, and by Nancy’s hairdresser, Julius--since 1968. When Reagan’s head was shaved for surgery after he left the White House, his hair grew back gray. Still, his handlers denied that he had previously colored it.

In 1968, presidential candidate Hubert H. Humphrey turned heads: In January his hair was white; seven months later, it was black.

And then there’s the hairy scariest of all--Strom Thurmond, the 99-year-old soon-to-retire Republican senator from South Carolina, who is the original Carrot Top.

But men like Vidal Sassoon, Alex Trebek, Bob Barker, George Hamilton and Richard Gere--who used to cover up--have had enough of the shoe-polish look. Sean Connery, Jay Leno, President Clinton, Edward James Olmos, George Clooney and Harrison Ford are others who prefer to keep their look salty with a dash of pepper.

But what about the locks of other high-profile men? Dare we play a fast round of follicle folly: “Does he or doesn’t he?”

* Ozzy Osbourne? @#$!!--flipping, yes.

* Cardinal Roger Mahony? Bless him, we believe he does.

* Robert Blake? Duh!

* Bernard Parks? No violation here.

* SpongeBob SquarePants? Trick question. He has no hair.

Edwards, at Fox TV’s Channel 11, says he dyed his hair for years after “it came in just gray on the top and looked absurd under the lights.” In the beginning, his wife, Jean, “would pour the bottle of dye on my head.” Eventually, he had professional colorists tend to his hair as he chased the fountain of youth.

He says he dyed so much--every six weeks, sometimes more often--that his hair, after being exposed to the sun and the bright lights of anchordom, took on the shade “of premature magenta,” which is why he stopped coloring.

These days, he cracks, “I’m chasing the fountain of age.” But co-workers and viewers think otherwise: He’s Fox’s foxy silver-haired-mane man. Even guest David Cassidy “complimented me on it and told me he wished he had the guts” to go the way of gray. “You’d be amazed at the mail I get from women who have been able to stop their husbands from dying their hair. Why didn’t I do it all these years?”

Hefner says he’s never dyed. “I’m happy I went gray in a natural way. The lower part of my hair is grayer than the top and now has a distinguished quality about it. I like the lines in my face--they go with my hair,” he says, adding “I think I look better now than when I was younger. I think I’ve aged well, hair and all.”

Blackwell has only dyed his hair once, and that was about 20 years ago. “I looked scary. I stayed inside my home for three months. Whenever your hair goes gray and you dye it dark, it turns into a purple shade,” he says.

“I personally think a man can live with his hair being natural, but not a woman. With men, it’s too brash and hard. It’s spooky. And when they dye their eyebrows, they look like Groucho Marx.”

Hairstylist Stuart Gavert of Gavert Atelier in Beverly Hills, says, “Women often sit in my chairs and say, ‘I didn’t want to go out with him because he dyes his hair.’ So, there you go.” But if a man feels he must, then Gavert advises him to seek professional help. Men who dye their own hair often get disastrous results--shades from yellow to green to violet. He says some of his older male clients “just want to leave a little gray at the temples and request that I ‘make it more pepper than salt'--that’s the biggest trend right now.”

Jennifer Jahanbigloo, color specialist and co-owner of Juan Juan Salon in Beverly Hills, says many of her older A-listers in the film industry only want the gray to show in the sideburns and temples, “like they’re barely starting to gray.”

“I have a client who is a director who has been wanting to keep up with the younger generation and doesn’t want to look older than he is. We dyed his hair and took 10 years off his age,” she says.

At Vidal Sassoon Salon, also in Beverly Hills, half of color director Yiotis Panayiotou’s male clientele “want to disguise their gray hair” for reasons ranging from workplace issues to attracting younger women.

Etienne Taenaka, the salon’s manager, adds that men “can have it both ways"--gray and a dye job because of new products such as semi-permanent color enhancers that will leave some of the gray in. By the way, Taenaka adds: “These products are made in Germany, so, just maybe the chancellor might be doing this.”

Of course, only his hairdresser would know for sure.


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