There may not be many artists, actors and directors who sport the old liphugger these days, but over much of the twentieth century many did choose to feature the old facelace. Some did so as part of their dapper charm, others to accentuate their comic chops or bring their campy charisma to the fore. And for others it was all part of their artistic representation. Just some clarification before we proceed with our featured creative crustacheians: with actors, it is the actors themselves, not the characters that they portray, that we are featuring here. So no De Niro as a young Vito Corleone, or Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview.
Clark Gable and Errol Flynn are counted similarly here, because well, they have a certain flair and panache that comes with Golden age of Hollywood royalty. Both are suave and debonair, with the stache completing their ladykiller image. Gable is best remembered for playing Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind along Scarlet O’Hara. He would go on to star in such other critical masterpieces like The Misfits, starring Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift, his last film appearance and also consider his greatest performance. If you want to know more about Gable you could read Jane Ellen Wayne’s biography, Clark Gable: Portrait of a Misfit. Flynn is best remembered for his swashbuckling roles like In the Wake of the Bounty, but is also know for his work in other adventures and war time romances like the Santa Fe Trail and Dive Bomber.
Where Gable and Flynn epitomised the 1930s cool with their staches, Vincent Price took it in his stride to reinvent the stache in a tone that was unique to his output. He came from the same place, and even has a similar style, but where the two former were the ultimate cool customer, Price, reaching his prime at a later decade, realised the somewhat silly quality of the stache. So instead he worked with that fact and used his considerable charm to don the moustache in a more seriocomic style. He was not the wisecracker like Marx or the farce meister like Chaplin, but instead he donned a debonair demeanour reminiscent of Gable and Flynn, but with a serve tongue-in-cheek quality. Among his best known film appearances are horror films like House on Haunted Hill, The Invisible Man Returns, Theater of Blood and The Last Man on Earth. Music lovers will recognise his sonorous voice which was used to great effect for the spooky monologue in Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and he was introduced to a new audience in all his campy glory thanks to his last film role in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.
Se, se, se, se seventies oh yeah. Makes you think of another single syllable word right? We’ll if it doesn’t our next two stache’s don’t get your mind movin’ and a grovin’ then nothing will. The seventies saw the staches take on a reserved tone, simple in design and execution, but oozing with sex appeal. And of the era, two men make the manometer proud: Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds. Selleck paired the mo with his physical presence, his 6’4″ frame, muscular physique and chiselled features, meaning he became ‘the’ macho symbol of the decade. Reynolds was less psychically impressive, but by no means did badly. If anything he was the Hollywood movie star while Selleck’s success was limited to television, a distinction that very much favoured Reynolds (this was before the current golden age where television has very much become the go-to medium for adults). He is featured prominently in John Boorman’s controversial Deliverance, but specialised in comedy action flicks like Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run. All that aside, both sport significant staches enviable by any man.
When you think artist, who is one of the first names that comes to mind? Yep, Salvador Dali. And when you think moustache, what is one of the most iconic crumb catchers around? Yep, Dali’s gravity defying curves. Whether its the oozing of his camembert clocks in “The Persistence of Memory” or surreal cinematic exploration that is Un Chien Andalou, Dali is the creator of many striking images. But the follicles voted the worlds most famous moustache have significant artistic pedigree as well, being attributed to Spanish master painter Diego Velázquez and Marcel Proust. Other have gone even further, describing the moustache itself as a surrealist work of art in its own right, and we happily second that notion.
Working at a time when New York was something of an urban wasteland, it was people like John Waters who saw the Blank City that was New York and turned it into a creative haven. But these were not some refined aesthete artefacts, but rambunctious, raucous celebrations of camp and carnival. From confronting trailer park inspired transgressive black comedies like Pink Flamingos to more accessible musicals like Hairspray, Waters carved out a unique cinematic vision that prized the tremendously tacky charm of kitsch, or, to use the words of Waters’ alter ego on an episode of The Simpsons, “the tragically ludicrous” or “the ludicrously tragic”. And nothing says that better than Waters’ own pencil thin moutache, that looks as though it might as well have been drawn on with said pencil. Say it anyway you want, we all know what it is: it’s camp! Glorious camp!
Another stache that looks like its been drawn on (because, well, it was–with greasepaint this time), but these come with a nifty pair of eyebrows too. And we have to say that we think we’ve found the winner (this isn’t rally a contest, but hey). Is it full and lush? Yes! Is it recognisable from a mile away? Oh yes! Is it the perfect mix of enviable and ridiculous? Yes, yes, yes! No doubt Groucho Marx would not be overly taken with this honour. We would venture to guess that (dare we do it?) Groucho would not want to accept an award that would have him as a recipient (nope, wasn’t worth it, but it had to be done!). Groucho is of course known for being one of the Marx Brothers, who made a series of sensational comedies like A Day at the Races, A Night at the Opera, and Duck Soup. But he has transcended his siblings, and become ever immortalised in the glorious Groucho Glasses.
We would love to give first place to Charlie Chaplin and his tooth brush moustache. It was a common style in the early 20th Century, with many entertainers like Chaplin and Oliver hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame sporting the style. But it was Chaplin with whom the style really connected. That is, until a certain German Chancellor-cum-dictator also starting sporting it, forever marring the style with him. It is still a notable and worthy stache, but sadly on that carries with it significant cultural baggage. Sorry Mr. Chaplin. But all is not lost, as Chaplin, who became increasingly political in much of his films, utilised the similarity when creating the scathing critique of antisemitism, fascism, Hitler, and Mussolini that is The Great Dictator. Chaplin made a significant mark on cinema and remains a comedy icon thanks to his unique and often copied Tramp persona made famous by films like The Kid. He is still considered on of the greatest pioneers, not just in his perfectly timed and executed slapstick comedy, but also behind the camera as writer, producer, director, editor and composer. This puts him alongside the greats like Orson Welles as a cinematic powerhouse.
Our last entry is something of a surprise and a reprieve of the masculine air that has taken over this blog. It may strike many as strange that we are including a woman on a list featuring an appendage more usually associated with men. But fact is that Frida Kahlo did sport some hair on her upper lip, and this was a feature she felt no need to shy away from. Many of her self portraits prominently feature her very noticeably with stache, and if anything it is more noticeable in them than in photographs (granted, you can see an outline, but the portraits make this a significant feature). Where many would use art to hide the features they are not too fond of, Kahlo clearly evoked the feature for self expression. As she once said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” And this gives Kahlo a commonality with many of the latter examples on this list. Like her male compatriots, her donning of the follicles was a conscious, artistic statement, and that makes a vital addition that we cannot ignore. Like these compatriots, the artifice is fully recognised and utilised, and that makes it incredibly vital for the cause of these blog entries. After all, what is Movember if not an address of real social issues with the ironic, self-conscious help of the old lip toupée?