THE 1952 CLASSIC SITCOM WASTED NO TIME TACKLING THE ISSUE OF HAIR LOSS IN ITS FIRST SEASON ON TV.
Men’s worries about going bald have been grist for the TV mill from the so-called “Golden Age” of television right down to the present day. The subject can be treated in a variety of ways, although it is most often the basis for comedy.
“I Love Lucy,” the granddaddy of all sitcoms and still one of the few that undeniably deserves the label of “classic,” tackled the subject in its first season. In the 1952 episode entitled, fittingly enough, “Ricky Thinks He’s Getting Bald,” everybody’s favorite dizzy redhead makes a passing comment about everybody’s favorite Cuban band leader’s slightly receding hairline.
Ricky’s reaction will be familiar to anyone who has suddenly awakened to the fact that there’s not as much hair on his head as there used to be: He rushes to the mirror and begins a frantic examination of just how far this alleged recession has progressed already.
From there, Ricky becomes increasingly despondent about what he perceives as his march toward complete hair loss. And Lucy, naturally, decides to take matters into her own never-quite-capable hands.
Hair loss treatments … Lucy style
After a visit to a store that sells a wide range of hair loss treatment products – ointments, salves, creams, tonics, scraper, vibrators, suction devices and agitators – Lucy returns home with the options that “smell the worst and hurt the most.” Promising that this scalp treatment will make his hair grow back (but actually hoping to just get Ricky to snap out of his doldrums and stop worrying about his hair), Lucy sits Ricky down, wraps a towel around his neck and then covers his whole body with a plastic sheet.
First up is a “stimulating vibration” for the scalp, administered by way of a handheld device that is about the size of a modern day digital video camera. An electric brush is tried next, followed by a massage machine covered in strange brushes that looks like something Dr. Frankenstein would have rejected as too inhumane. (Whether this is the “suction device” or the “agitator” referred to by the salesman is anybody’s guess.)
Lucy warns that the next part of the treatment will be “gooey,” a typical understatement. She starts by dousing Ricky’s hair with cooking oil, letting much of it pour down his face and neck. After oil “to lubricate” the scalp, one needs plenty of vinegar, naturally – “to marinate the scalp.” And Lucy can’t resist following this by cracking two eggs on Ricky’s head and using an egg beater to mix them in to his scalp.
The “treatment” continues with the application to Ricky’s head of a plumber’s plunger. Probably cheaper than the X-ER-VAC, an actual cap which vacuum-sucks the scalp, Lucy’s method was also probably a lot more painful.
Ricky is next treated to a scalding mustard plaster, with his scalp encased in a nylon stocking and in a heat cap so that it could “bake for 20 minutes.”
By this point, Lucy is sure that Ricky will cry “Uncle!” – especially when she tells him they will have to administer these treatments every other night for 6 months. But, in true sitcom fashion, Ricky is anything but discouraged and insists that they try the treatments every night instead, prompting one of Lucy’s classic double takes and a swift fade-out.
It’s a funny episode, but how realistic is its depiction of hair loss treatments?
Lucy’s hair loss treatments: Fiction not so far from fact
Surprisingly, not very far off. Aside from the plumber’s plunger, everything that Lucy recommends is something has been legitimately suggested as helping to restore hair. (That’s not to say that all of the techniques actually work, or would actually work for every person; it’s just saying that the techniques themselves were, and in many cases still are, “real.”)
For example, the electric brush, the scalp massage, etc. have been around for many years. The theory behind them is that they will increase the circulation of blood to the scalp, which serves to send more oxygen and nutrients to the follicles while more aggressively removing toxins and elements that might damage the follicles.
The oil, vinegar, egg and mustard plaster (as well as cumin, mayonnaise and many other food products) are all home remedies that are ages old, although there are hundreds of variations on how much, how often, how long, etc. The oil is indeed intended to lubricate, the vinegar is intended to clear clogged follicles and the eggs are intended to add protein to strengthen the hair. The mustard plaster, meanwhile, is thought to provide nutrients and also to open the pores, while the heat cap is intended to allow for deeper penetration.
Whether any of these treatments work or not, “I Love Lucy” makes one thing clear by Ricky’s enthusiastic reaction: sometimes it’s not the treatment but one’ s belief in the treatment that can make a difference.
After all, hair loss is all in the head – sometimes in more than one way.