Let us begin with a gallery of a few of the world's greatest 'staches. These hair lips are so renowned that I don't need to give you the names:
And one of my own favorites:
All right, all right. I don't imagine you've missed more than one or two of those. But the most iconic 'stache of all is one that most of us have missed...but in a different way, You'll recognize it a glance, even without the man's mug:
Why, yes, of course: it's Groucho Marx! But is it really? Check out these two photos of Groucho. The one that I'd remembered is shown on the right.
But the other night I re-met the young actor on the left while watching a Marx Brothers film. And something surpassingly strange caught my eye: Groucho's mustache appeared to be....well, glistening. Almost like an oil slick. What the devil was that thing?
A little Googling coughed up the answer:
Groucho Marx also used a fake mustache during his years in vaudeville and in the early Marx Brothers movies. However, his was drawn onto his lip with grease paint, containing no hairs or bristles. In later life he grew his own, real mustache. It, along with his cigar and waggling eyebrows, were his famous trademark.
My initial reaction: disappointment, a sense of betrayal. But these feelings passed into a mixed sense of amusement and wonder. The more we dig, the more we learn. But sometimes the digging can be self-defeating. Groucho's off screen walk, I'm sure, was different from his screen walk. So were his eyebrows. But who gives a hoot? If we can't see the greasepaint as part of the magic, the loss is ours.
Similarly, I don't care if Mae West inflated her bosom with enough air to fill up a raft. Nor do I give two dings if an actor uses steroids to get his buff physique or if an author's still a dead ringer for his/her more youthful photo.
In fact, if I may close with another iconic mustache. I still prefer to think of Lawrence Sanders, my favorite author, as he appeared for years and years. Much later photos were less kind. But this one still has majesty and it honors both him and his work.
Meanwhile, hey Spirit of Groucho, pass me the damned greasepaint!