Russell Simpson — Have You Any Whiskers? (1921) 🇺🇸
“Will you pardon me a moment? There is a lady waiting outside to show me her hair.”
by Edwin Schallert
Russell Simpson gave me a nod and a half smile and walked out of his dressing room at Goldwyn studio, while I gave vent to a repressed “Oh — I see!”, wondering what sort of piquant adventure was in store for the character actor whom I had come to interview.
Evidently the lady’s hair was bobbed, or Simpson’s taste for admiring tresses was dulled that day, for he very shortly ended the interruption — which I had considered rather frivolous — by coming back and seating himself before his dressing table, where he started to make up as if nothing unusual had happened.
“I suppose you are rather a connoisseur on hair,” I remarked by way of opening the conversation, and with a certain curiosity concerning his odd penchant for beholding a woman’s coiffure. I had visions of him selling dye or hair restorer, when he was acting.
“Oh, yes, I suppose I am. I do pick up a lot of hair that way,” said he, nodding toward the door through which he had just returned.
“You say —” And I know my surprise was as wide-mouthed as the entrance of a subway. “You say you pick up hair —”
“Oh, yes, now and then,” he broke in. “Down at the ten-cent store, around the beauty parlors, and sometimes in a mattress store or rug dealer’s shop. It depends a great deal on the part. Here’s some I bought to-day at Woolworth’s. Very good hair,” he remarked, as he showed me a package. “Think I’ll use it.”
“That woman I was just talking to is going to cut off her hair, and she gave me first chance on a purchase. I generally pay pretty well for good hair,” and Simpson commenced draping on a beard with the Woolworth switch.
I began to see that there was something in this hair stuff after all. And I recovered some of my equipoise, or whatever it is.
“You see, whiskers are my specialty,” Simpson went on, as he surveyed the patriarchal beard that appeared on his chin in the looking-glass. “I’ve tried to get away from them, but I can’t. They make such a lot of trouble.
“My wife, for instance, has objected from time to time at the disappearance of her switches. But perhaps I shouldn’t say that, because she doesn’t wear them now.
“I’ve had the misfortune to be cast in many roles where I had to wear a beard. Sometimes, when the part allows, I raise my own. I did that in Godless Men, the new Goldwyn picture. Other times, I have to glue on the whiskers with spirit gum, which I obtain from the East — a special kind that doesn’t show.
“In Bunty Pulls the Strings, of course, I wore only side-burns. That was easy. By the way, that picture gives me my best chance at acting — that and Godless Men.
That one is a sea story, with a strong thrill interest. You may find it a bit gloomy in theme, but I think you’ll like the fight and the excitement.”
I said that I was sure I would, but I made a mental reservation that it would be chiefly because I would have a chance to see what kind of whiskers Simpson could produce himself. Also I could easily visualize him in the part of Bunty with his thick, Scotch-looking hair and whiskers to match.
Simpson is really a virtuoso at make-up. Up around Ticonderoga, so his friends tell, and he reluctantly admits it himself, the visitors were willing to bet ten dollars that he wasn’t made up at all, when they saw him in full beard working in pictures. And he frightened tenderhearted women to death by pulling hair out of, or rather, off his chin.
That was before he had returned to California. You see he was born out West — on the bay near San Francisco, in fact. He worked up and down the coast at various employments, and then finally sought to fulfill a juvenile ambition. He got a job in Ralph Stuart’s company in By Right of Sword. He avers that he was a very poor actor at that time, but at the close of the tour a critic in St. Louis gave him a puff that kept his ambition from choking to death.
He later tried comic opera — The Count of Luxembourg. “I didn’t have a singing role, though,” continued Simpson. “I can’t sing and I’ve got sense enough not to fry. I had one of those incidental talking parts. It helped.
“Later I did Bub Hicks in The College Widow. That was just before I went into the pictures. Frank Wonderly, who was playing Silent Murphy in the stage show, got me in. That was in the days when you slid around to the back door of a studio so your friends wouldn’t know you were acting in the movies.”
It almost looks as though Simpson were going to register a rise to stellar fame in the near future. Both in Bunty Pulls the Strings and Godless Men he plays featured roles. He also has the lead, sans whiskers, in Out of the Dust, an independent production that ranks highly among the new Westerns. Film fans first became acquainted with Russell’s penetrating eyes, his incisive features, and his keen dramatic vigor in The Brand, the Rex Beach story, which was released about two years ago.
Russell Simpson hopes that some day a director will want him without any whiskers.
Photo by: Roman Freulich (1898–1974)
The dirt-stained natives think that Simpson is one of them when they see him out on location.
Bunty Pulls the Strings gave him one of his best parts.
Photo by: Clarence Sinclair Bull (1896–1979)
Collection: Picture Play Magazine, April 1921