He’s taking a plebiscite about a beard

Jean de Montousse pictured sans beard in Sydney on July 5, 1954.

Jean de Montousse pictured sans beard in Sydney on July 5, 1954.Credit:Ted Foster

At eight, his daughter, Anne, backs the yes-women team. But she complains: “It prickles when you kiss me good-night.”

Charles, his son, hasn’t been consulted – not because he’s only seven months, but because males don’t get the vote in this particular plebiscite.

Le collier de barbe de M. de Montousse is three weeks old.

He grew it on a working visit to New Guinea, where he was in an earthquake, thrown from a horse hurtling down a ravine, and nearly attacked by vampire bats.

But these weren’t the reasons for the beard.

“I did it as a bit of a joke,” he explained.

“You know the story of Alcibiades and his handsome dog. When he first got it everyone in Athens talked of nothing else for days – ‘Have you seen Alcibiades’ dog?′

“So when they stopped talking they cut off its tail. Then for days everyone began again ‘Have you SEEN Alcibiades’ dog?′

“That’s how it will be when I finally shave.”

Fort even if the plebiscite brings in an overwhelming keep it decision – and that’s the latest from the Gallup poll – M. de Montousse feels a beard might be too uncomfortable in a Sydney summer.

“Shave it off when the play finishes? Not a bit of it.” Leo McKern in his dressing room at the Elizabethan Theatre on October 26, 1956.

“Shave it off when the play finishes? Not a bit of it.” Leo McKern in his dressing room at the Elizabethan Theatre on October 26, 1956.Credit:Hugh Ross

But the female sex is unpredictable and eight years ago the women of Beirut were responsible for the removal of his last beard. They voted 32-28 against it.

Leo McKern recently became another of Sydney’s bearded gentlemen for his “Ned Kelly” role.

“Isn’t it wonderful colour?” he demanded. “Same as my mother’s hair.

“Shave it off when the play finishes? Not a bit of it.

“I like it. My wife likes it.

“And it’s too disappointing to part with something you’ve cultivated.

“Not bad for seven weeks, either. It’s a nice full beard and that’s the way I like them – not the fancy extended mutton chops that Frank Waters wears for the Joe Byrne part.”

Mr. McKern has encountered only one woman who hasn’t applauded.

The beard, as Mr. McKern sees it, is an expression of masculine vanity. (This he qualified to “pride”, for he says that only women have vanity.)

“It’s the natural thing.” Artists Douglas Dundas (left) and Weaver Hawkins listen while Governor Sir John Northcott expounds a point on September 25, 1953.

“It’s the natural thing.” Artists Douglas Dundas (left) and Weaver Hawkins listen while Governor Sir John Northcott expounds a point on September 25, 1953.Credit:Ronald Leslie Stewart

“A beard makes a man look masculine as long hair makes a woman look more feminine.”

Does it change the personality?

“Does it?” he replied, with a hearty laugh.

“How do you feel when you put on a new hat, hey?”

The final word on the subject must come from the art world. Why do so many artists grow beards?

“Some of them do it because these days it’s rather unconventional — some because the public expect it,” answered Douglas Dundas, president of the Society of Artists.

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Mr. Dundas’s Van Dyke is the product of a painting holiday on the Murrumbidgee 16 years ago.

“Saves time shaving; my wife likes it, so I’ve kept it,” he said.

“Once when I shaved no one recognised me, so I had to grow it again.

“Why not a beard? It’s the natural thing, anyway.“


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