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DIY Film Fest: Before they were bald

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Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC's Filmweek and Alt Film Guide, has joined Off-Ramp's team of commentators. Cogshell blogs at CinemaInMind.

I’ve been thinking about how some guys can do bald and some guys can’t.

In Hollywood, hair is a big deal. Can you imagine the late great Gene Wilder without those fuzzy curls or Brad Pitt minus those flowing blonde locks in Legends of the Fall? Bucking tradition, some actors not only survive after losing their hair, but excel. 

Here are the totally arbitrary rules:

First - they must be now publicly and completely bald. Classic male pattern baldness and comb-overs don’t count. This lets out Burt Reynolds... John Travolta... Nick Cage... William Shatner... and many other actors known to be bald but who won’t cop to it in public.

They must have become or continued to be a movie star after becoming denuded - and last - their name must have occurred to me before I finished this piece. Okay... here we go.

1. Yul Brynner  

Brenner appeared in only one film with a full head of hair. In 1949’s Port of New York, Brynner played a debonair gang leader with fabulous dark wavy hair. He’s good. He didn’t need hair-- even back then.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 12:  Actor Taye Diggs attends the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award Nominations at the Pacific Design Center on December 12, 2012 in West Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 12: Actor Taye Diggs attends the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Award Nominations at the Pacific Design Center on December 12, 2012 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

2. Taye Diggs

Nevertheless, you can see Taye Diggs with hair in a stint on The Guiding Light - 1997- where he played Adrian 'Sugar' Hill - a sexy business shark - with hair! He’s still got hair in the movie that launched him to movie stardom -1998’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back. He still needed a brush in The Wood - 1999 - but by 2000’s, The Way of the Gun - Taye was a handsome bald man, on-screen and off, and has been ever since.

3. Morris Chestnut

Morris Chestnut had hair from before Boyz N’ The Hood - 1990 - thru the 90’s, including that first Best Man - opposite Taye Diggs in 1999. It was the last time they’d have hair together. By 2002’s Half Past Dead, Chestnut had also gone clean shaven. By The Best Man Holiday in 2013, both Diggs and Chestnut had been bald for years and were bigger stars than ever.

4. Vin Diesel 

Vin can be seen pop-locking in an instructional dance video in the late 1980s with a serious head of hair. He still had a whisper of hair when he got his big break in Saving Private Ryan - 1995, and when he got first starring role in Pitch Black - in the year 2000. There was even still a shadow of his former fro in the first Fast and Furious film - 2001. It was as Xander in 2002’s Triple X that Vin was first a wholly bald badass.

5. Samuel L. Jackson 

Sam has lots of early movie credits with hair - dating back to 1972. You’ve seen him with hair in School Daze and Goodfellas and Jungle Fever and Jurassic Park. In 1998’s The Great White Hype, Samuel is wearing an interesting wig - it’s straight and frosted white - and perfect for this character - a shady boxing promoter a’la Don King.

Sam’s best hair is found in Unbreakable also at the turn of the millennium. It’s kind of Frederick Douglass meets Sugar Foot - the late front man for the Ohio Players - it’s stately - yet funky.

Sam appears in Unbreakable opposite our next pre-and-post hair movie star, Bruce Willis.

6. Bruce Willis

Bruce had a long career with hair - on Broadway and on TV - even before his hit series Moonlighting in the early 80s. He had hair thru the Die Hard movies, though, truth be told, it was always wispy. By Death Becomes Her in 1992, it’s getting very thin. For Pulp Fiction in 1994, his hair was thinner still. Then, finally, Bruce Willis goes boldly-bald in 1995’s Twelve Monkeys.

Both Bruce and Sam are avid movie-hair actors - which I love. Sam will rock a Pulp Fiction gerri-curl or a long straight Tina Turner ponytail like he did in Jackie Brown, if the role calls for it, while Bruce Willis has been known to wear any number of pieces to top off a character - so to speak.

So in a town as shallow as Hollywood what’s the thing that not only gets some actors past the loss of their hair - but catapults them to greater stardom? Here is my totally arbitrary answer: Some guys have bad heads for bald... and know it. Some guys have good heads for bald... but don’t know it. But some guys have good heads for being bald and do know it. For these guys hair is an accessory-- fun but never really necessary.