The one with George Burns

Recently, my sister told me that one of her favorite Larry stories was “the one with George Burns.”

“Really?” I said. “Because it ended rather badly, and I think dad was a little annoyed with me.”

“Yeah, but it’s still a good story.”

Well, this one’s for you, Allison.


When I was a kid, I hated getting my haircut. I would yell and scream, and according to mom, I had been banned from “every decent kids’ place in town.” I was four.

Mom thought I’d never get a haircut. Dad thought I just needed the right barber.

“They treat him like a child, so he acts like one,” dad said. “I’ll take him with me next time.”

Dad had been going to Art for years. Art was old school. He used a straight razor and made his own shaving cream. All of Art’s clients were men, and his shop in Hollywood had a strict no kids policy.

But dad was a good customer and he could be very persuasive. He talked Art into giving me a shot.

The following Saturday, dad took me to see Art.

“Kid, we don’t do balloons or any of that stuff,” Art warned in a gruff voice. “Behave or leave.”

Then Art pointed me to the chair. After adding a booster seat and two phone books, I was ready for my first hair cut.

Things went well. Naturally, dad gloated when he told mom that I’d be going with him from now on.

I became a regular, and the only exception to Art’s no kid policy.

But dad and Art decided to press their luck. They hatched a plan for a commercial that would feature Art’s oldest client and his youngest. That meant me and George Burns.

“I love it,” dad said. “Michael will be great.”

Dad made the deal. He’d give Art a good rate on the sound for the shoot, plus dad and I would get free haircuts for life.

“There’s just one thing,” Art said. “George has to meet Michael. You know how actors are, Larry.”

The following month, we joined George Burns for a haircut. The meeting did not go well.

I lectured George Burns about the dangers of smoking. He puffed on his cigar and told me he was in perfect health. I called him smelly.

“You just wouldn’t stop arguing with him,” dad later recalled. “It went on and on.”

I asked what George Burns did.

“He kept smoking and telling you to mind your own business.”

Naturally, the commercial was off. Dad lost the rental and the free haircuts. But he also lost his standing Saturday morning appointment.

“Larry, I’ve got to bump you guys,” Art explained. “George says he’s not coming back if Michael is here.”

For the next ten years, until Art retired, dad and I had a Saturday afternoon appointment. George Burns kept the morning slot, and we never saw him there again.

Years later, I asked dad why Art hadn’t just banned me.

“Because he thought you were right,” dad said. “That cigar stunk to high heaven.”

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