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It Was the Wig that Did It

An unlikely match

By Sherry Lowell-LewisPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 6 min read
It Was the Wig that Did It
Photo by Barry Weatherall on Unsplash

It was the wig that did it, apparently.

Let me go back a bit.

My junior year in college I was working on a double major and I was a little behind in one of them. Psychology was a bigger challenge because I didn't always see the reason for memorizing the names and dates of the Greats. I wanted more connection to what they discovered rather than a bunch of theories. I was (somewhat) committed to giving it more time.

That meant staying home at night instead of rehearsing for a play, which was the other major. That spring, 1976, the University was going to host all the local schoolchildren to show them a play. We would present in the early afternoons for an entire week. I decided to forego the delight of screaming, not projecting, lines to a crowd of noisy brats who didn't want to be there. Four hundred of them at a time. Busloads of them. Ansty. Unruly.

Hard pass. I had studying to do.

But fate took over. I got a call from the Department Chair, reporting that only one women had come to auditions and another woman was needed for the Bicentennial salute, a children's play called "Young Hickory". He would grow up to be called "Old Hickory" and President of the United States, but for now he's just a precocious youth who has been imprisoned during the American Revolution. Our hero has an aunt and the Chair wanted me to portray her. I explained that I needed to put more focus on my other field of study and he told me, "Since the part is fairly small but important, you can bring your books to rehearsals that you are required to attend, and skip the rest. Will you also help out with makeup?"

Fine. Yessir, I'll be there.

The next evening at seven, I went into the rehearsal space and climbed to the top of the house, opened my Psych book and began to read. I even took notes, head down, focused.

My friend Rick was playing Young Hickory, making his voice sound like it was changing so he sounded like a preteen instead of twenty-something. I watched for a moment, then went back to the book.

Then another sound caught my ear, and I looked up to see a big guy. Not so very tall, but taller than Rick and broad of shoulders, stronger than Rick. He was talking like he was from Oklahoma, which did not fit into the Revolution-era acceptable dialects. Well, I thought, he probably can't do dialects. He probably can't act. I think he was cast in the part of a fellow prisoner because the scene called for Rick to stand on someone to see out of the high prison windows.

In my mind, I called him a hick. I meant it as an insult. Where did they dig this guy up? Then I most definitely went back to my book, until it was my turn to do a scene with my pal Rick.

As the weeks rolled by, I kept studying for my Psych classes and raising my "okay" B's to "hey, it's your major so you'd better be earning A's" grades. And I was introduced to the Big Guy (BG). He didn't behave like other actors but he seemed to be having a good time. I found out he was a Creative Writing/English major who had written several screenplays. We were theatre actors, so we turned up our noses at film people and we feign disinterest. Until somebody cast us in a movie, that is!

The first costume rehearsal we had, Professor W asked me if I would dress some wigs because even though it was 1976 and men often had long hair, some of our troupe did not. So I took on BG and a couple of others, helping them with basic makeup--eyeliner a little rouge and lip color. Otherwise, the stage lights make you look dead or invisible.

Naturally, most men don't start experimenting with makeup like young women do. The men flinch and blink at the pencil and pull away when a bobby pin comes close to their scalp. I had to use psychology on them, speaking in a low, calm voice and moving very slowly, like each of them was a wild animal that I had to examine their teeth. The guys all responded well. BG seemed to tolerate my ministrations to make him look like a stage actor.

One thing I noticed about BG was that he always had a book with him. He was always reading. I thought he must be reading Descarte or Hawthorn. One day I noticed it was a western novel. When confronted, he defended himself by saying he was working on a project for a class. I let it go. After all, I had lowered myself to do Children's Theater, hadn't I? I also noticed that, western novel aside, he sounded smart. And clever. And funny. He had dropped the Okie dialect and was doing an acceptable Standard Stage American, a big improvement. I also noticed his blue eyes sparkled when he was amused or being amusing, and when he talked philosophy.

The children's show went off well. BG helped with some of the fight choreography. It turned out he was a sharpshooter. He did exhibitions around town. I mean, he was good.

Over the summer, I ran into him on the way to class, so I couldn't stop to talk. He had grown a ridiculous Van Dyke beard. I tried to say something nice, but I just smiled and waved.

In the fall, he came back to audition. This time I was cast in the lead, so I didn't have a lot of time. He was in a small role, but he hung around all the time. He fit right in. On opening night, the actors have a tradition of praying for a good show, blessing each other. It's not religious, just a coming together. Then everybody kisses everybody. That's theatre folks for you. I was in makeup that aged me to about 50 years old and a grey wig, so I certainly didn't feel attractive. I was being called to places, meaning we were about to start. I hurried through "kissy face" with those who were near and turned to leave the room when BG launched himself over a large round coffee table to collect his kiss.

That was the first sign.

A couple of years later, someone asked him and later told me that when BG was asked what first attracted him to me, he said it was the gentle, sensitive way I handled his makeup and the wig.

We were married 26 years. A wig changed my life, for sure!


About the Creator

Sherry Lowell-Lewis

Actor, writer, voice-over artist, teacher, author, mother and Grammy of 4. I've done a lot. I grew up in Bolivia, Laos and Taiwan. Married 25 years, widowed. Please read my stuff and leave a comment! Thanks.

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  • Sherry Lowell-Lewis (Author)4 months ago

    Thanks, Chuck. I appreciate the feedback. "Just another Flight" is also a true story from when I was 17. Let's keep writing! I'm working on an entry for the Word Search Challenge. I'll keep you posted.

  • Chuck Etheridge4 months ago

    I really love this. Of course, it's nostalgic for me, because I'm familiar with the annual children's show, and I know who BG and Dr. W are. I'd like it even if I didn't know the context---it's a great story, and you can never overestimate the power of a good wig!

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