“Out, Out, Damn Bald Spot!”: Hair Loss and Writers of Prose



A tip for male novelists looking to write a bestseller: Try sporting the bald look.

A review of the top 10 fiction bestsellers on the “New York Times” hardcover list for January 16, 2009 revealed five books written by male authors.  Of these five, three were written by men who would definitely be considered part of the hair loss community; a fourth was authored by a man whom some might consider to be at least in the “receding” community.

The highest ranked of these three authors, W.E.B. Griffin, comes in at #3 with his newest novel, “Black Ops.” Griffin’s three dozen novels, which tend to have a solid connection to the military, have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

Close behind at #5 is David Wroblewski’s “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.” Wroblewski’s first novel has received the kind of reviews every author would die for. We can expect many more fine works to pop out of the man’s smooth and shining dome in the future.

Finally, #8’s Wally Lamb weighs in with his latest, “The Hour I First Believed”. As with his previous bestsellers, “She’s Come Undone” and “I Know This Much is True,” Lamb’s latest book is filled with vivid, memorable characters that engage the reader in often surprising ways.

Now, just because this one week reveals a “preference” for balding writers doesn’t mean that there’s really a correlation between the amount of hair on one’s head and the quality of prose one creates. But it is interesting to note how many writers – past and present – could be classified as having some notable degree of hair loss.

Writers of old had hair loss issues, too!

Go back 2000 years to Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a.k.a. Seneca the Younger, the great Roman tragedienne whose works influenced writers in many later centuries, including Shakespeare and Racine. We don’t have any photographs to verify the state of Seneca’s pate, but we do have a few sculptures. More importantly, we have a genuine quote from the man himself:

“I don’t consider myself bald; I’m just taller than my hair.”

A pretty good quip for a man whose métier was tragedy, eh?

As mentioned, Seneca influenced Shakespeare, considered by many the greatest writer the world has ever produced. This creator of innumerable famous quotes, from the “Out, damn spot” that gives this article its title to “All that glitters is not gold” to the inevitable “To be or not to be,” Shakespeare was also a bald man. Interestingly, there’s a theory that Shakespeare’s lack of hair may have been related to syphilis, a side effect of spending nearly as much time in bed as at the writing table. Mercury was a common treatment for syphilis at the time, and Dr. John Ross of Tufts University hypothesized in 2005 that this treatment resulted in substantial hair loss.

A fellow Englishman, though from a much later generation, Charles Dickens also has a secure and exalted position in literature. And, as evidenced from this report from Mark Twain in 1868, Dickens was a proud member of the Comb Over Club:

“…(Dickens was) gotten up…with a bright red flower in his button-hole, gray beard and mustache, bald head, and with side hair brushed fiercely and tempestuously forward, as if its owner were sweeping down before a gale of wind… That queer old head took on a sort of beauty, bye and bye, and a fascinating interest, as I thought of the wonderful mechanism within it, the complex but exquisitely adjusted machinery that could create men and women, and put the breath of life into them and alter all their ways and actions, elevate them, degrade them, murder them, marry them, conduct them through good and evil, through joy and sorrow, on their long march from the cradle to the grave, and never lose its godship over them, never make a mistake!”

A strong case for balding writers

A sampling of other British writers in our hair loss club would range from Thomas Hardy (“Tess of the d’Urbervilles”) to C.S. Lewis (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) to Roald Dahl (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) to William Golding (“Lord of the Flies”) to Arthur C. Clarke (“2001: A Space Odyssey”).

Clarke’s not the only noted science fiction author on our special list, either, as Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert would tell you; and having moved to Sri Lanka in 1956, Clarke also has a connection to another noted member of our community, Salman Rushdie, born in nearby India.

The international list doesn’t stop there, of course. Vladimir Nabokov, father to “Lolita,” belongs on it. So do Nobel Prize winners Naguib Mahfouz of Egypt, Dario Fo of Italy, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn of Russia, among many others.

Back in the U.S., Walter Mosley, creator of the popular Easy Rawlins books, sports a smooth top look. Herman Wouk’s “Winds of War” wouldn’t displace too many hairs on his head. Ralph Ellsion wrote “The Invisible Man,” but his gleaming pate was visible to many.

The list goes on and on. It does NOT include the contemporary A.J. Jacobs, who seems to have a pretty full head of hair. But I mention Jacobs, author of “The Know-It-All,” because when asked to give a 6-word summary of his life, he seems to have glimpsed into his own future, as he wrote:

“Born bald. Grew hair. Bald again.”

Which just goes to show that even those authors with plenty of hair must suspect that bald writers have got a little something extra going for them.