The one with George Burns
A Larry story about barbershops, manners, and a project that never got out of development
Welcome to Situation Normal, a weekly newsletter of slice of life stories! This past Friday, June 11, would’ve been my dad’s 79th birthday. Larry was a great dad, the world’s best sound person1, and a gifted storyteller. In honor of my dad, I’m sharing a story he loved to tell.
When I was a kid, I hated getting my haircut. I would yell and scream, and generally freak out the minute I got in the chair. According to my mom, I was “banned from every decent kids’ place on Ventura.” I was four.
Mom worried I’d never get a haircut. Dad was confident I just needed the right barber.
“They treat him like a child, so he acts like a child,” Dad said.
“Larry, he is a child.”
“I’ll take him with me next time. You’ll see.”
Dad always went to Art, who worked out of a barbershop in Hollywood called Dynasty. Art was old school. He used a straight razor and made his own shaving cream. He began his career doing hair for one of the movie studios at the heyday of the studio system.2 Then Art struck out on his own, but many of his clients still worked in the industry. Lots of sound and camera people, a few producers, and the occasional actor. I think most of Art’s clients were men, and I’m certain none of them were kids.
One Saturday, Dad took me to see Art.
“Kid, we don’t do balloons or any of that crap,” Art said in a gruff voice. “Behave like an adult, or you’re outta here.”
Then Art pointed me to the chair. After adding a booster seat and two phone books, I was ready for my first hair cut.
“How’d it go?” Mom asked when we got home.
“Are you kidding? Perfect! My son behaved like a perfect gentlemen. Linda, I don’t know what happened at those other places you took Michael, but Art said he’s welcome anytime.”
So, I became one of Art’s regulars, just like Dad. Every few weeks, always on a Saturday, Dad and I would drive over the hill into Hollywood to get haircuts.
Dad would go first. He’d talk business with Art and whoever was in one of the other chairs. I’d sit quietly in the lobby, pretending to read the trades.
When it was my turn, Art would get out the booster and two phone books. I’d climb into the chair. Art would cut my hair, while I’d fill him in on pre-school.
One Saturday, one of Art’s customers had a bad idea.
“Hey Art, you should do an ad with George and Larry’s kid!”
Everyone laughed. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.
“Oldest client, youngest client,” someone else suggested.
Everyone laughed again. That could work, Art thought, and a TV ad would be good for business.
“Larry, you think Linda would let the kid do a TV ad?”
Dad and Art shook on it. Then they shook again on a deal for Dad to provide production audio for the commercial.
“There’s just one thing,” Art said. “George has to meet Michael. You know how actors are, Larry.”
The following month, we joined comedy legend George Burns for a haircut.
The meeting did not go well. Right off the bat, I began lecturing George Burns about the dangers of smoking. He puffed on his cigar and told me he was in perfect health. I called him smelly. We spent the rest of the meeting trading insults.
“Michael was just giving him hell,” Dad explained. “He just wouldn’t stop. On and on, and on. George kept puffing on his cigar and saying, mind your own business, kid.”
The commercial was off. Dad lost the rental fee. I lost my day rate—and perhaps, my big break. Dad and I also fell to second position on Saturdays, which meant we had to work around George’s schedule.
“George says he’s not coming back if Michael is here,” Art explained. “I’ve never seen him so pissed.”
We never saw George again, and my acting career never did take off. But Dad always loved telling the story about the time his son blew up a chance to work with George Burns. Once, I asked Dad why Art didn’t just ban me.
“After all, I was rude, and Art did warn me about misbehaving,” I said.
“Because Art agreed with you,” Dad said. “George’s cigar stunk to high heaven.”
I’ll be back next week with another story! In the meantime, please do me a HUGE favor by sharing this newsletter with your friends and family!