The Gipper had several secrets to keeping his movie star good looks, like going for the youthful wet look and skipping the conspicuous hair dye.
One of the most intriguing secrets that former President Ronald Reagan took with him to his grave was whether he dyed his midnight-black hair. We now have the answer from his former image-maker, Michael Deaver, whose own oral history of the Gipper was kept under lock and key until he died in 2007, three years after Reagan. The skinny: "He never dyed his hair," said Deaver in his recorded recollections, which were just released by the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.
Deaver revealed that for years doubters thought Reagan's hair was touched up, even sneaking into barbershops to steal his locks to confirm their suspicions. The reason people thought it was dyed, Deaver said, was that through his career and early presidency, Reagan's hair was full, tall, and shiny. The secret to his silver-screen good looks: a little dab of Brylcreem, the men's hair pomade. "He had that wet look, and when I finally got the Brylcreem away from him, people stopped writing about him dying his hair. It was the Brylcreem," Deaver told UVA's Ronald Reagan Oral History Project.
Of course, Reagan knew exactly what he was doing because, even more than Deaver, he was a master image-maker. And apparently nothing earned his attention more than his head. Deaver recalled how people would always remark on how tall and broad-shouldered Reagan was when, in fact, he was just six-feet tall. And, Deaver added, "he had a little head." Reagan had a movie studio trick to make up for it. His shirts were made with an oversized collar. "Well," Deaver recalled Reagan explaining, "they told me in Hollywood that if I had a wide spread up here [in his collar], it would make my head look larger on my shoulders."
Another time, when Reagan was governor of California and visiting New York, Deaver arrived at Reagan's room to rush him to a meeting. Nancy Reagan directed Deaver to the bathroom where Reagan was combing his hair. "It was all wet, and he had it parted, and he had combed it down over his forehead before he combed it up. Honest to God, it just shocked the hell out of me because it was like the portrait of Dorian Gray. This was when he was 60-something, you know—he looked 80 years old."
But the more he watched Reagan whip that comb through his hair, the more Deaver noticed how much younger Reagan looked. "I never realized how much your face is changed when you comb your hair up in that pompadour," he told Reagan, who replied: "Oh yes, it takes all the lines right out of my face."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.