TV shows with a historical setting were big in the 1960s and 70s. The only thing bigger than the shows was their stars’ hair.
Producers put some effort into making sets and costumes historically accurate, but often fell flat with the hairdos.
Pa Ingalls: No man living on the prairie in the 1800s would have had the shiny, luxuriously flowing mane of hair that Michael Landon sported. Neither would a woman, for that matter. Given that their Little House On the Prairie was likely a soddie made of dirt and grass, all sorts of critters would have dropped from the roof into Pa Ingall’s hair-nest the moment he stepped out of the tub. Even if he did wear his hair long, he wouldn’t have gone near that tub more than once a month. His locks would have looked more like stringy, black licorice than fluffy, cotton candy.
Potsie: Young men in the 1950s wore their hair slicked back in a DA. That’s what Richie Cunningham’s friend Potsie sported in the first years of Happy Days, but he abandoned the Brylcreem at the end. In the last season, his thick, shining cap of 1980s hair could have earned him a spot as a Breck Girl. If he’d worn it that way in the 50s, it would have earned him a spot behind the bleachers…getting beat up by the T-Birds.
Audra Barkley: Baby-pink lipstick and long, teased platinum blonde hair were all the rage in the 1960s. Who knew this was also the preferred style for a woman living in The Big Valley in the 1870s? In order to keep her bouffant in place during the heat and humidity of a wild, wild west summer, Audra must have kept a trough of Aqua Net hairspray right next to the horse trough.
Major Margaret Houlihan: MASH was set in a military hospital in Korea in the 1950s, and in the early years the show tried to be true to that period. In the end, their only concession to that setting was that the actors still wore olive green. Pesky details like historical accuracy and humor were cast aside in favor of a constant barrage of holier-than-thou lectures to us, the viewers.
The worst offender was Major Margaret Houlihan. If her deep tan, blindingly white tooth veneers, snug designer t-shirts and artfully tousled, streaked hair were truly representative of life in a Korean field hospital, the Army must have drafted all of their barbers from the ranks of Beverly Hills beauty salons.
These shows started out relatively faithful to their time periods, so what changed?
They made it big.
I suspect that the actors got more powerful as the shows got more popular, and after a couple of years on top of the ratings, even the secondary characters gained creative control. In Hollywood lingo that means, “if historical accuracy makes me look bad, then historical accuracy be damned.”
Hollywood has done a total turnaround in the last 40 years, and TV stars must have no creative control at all anymore. How else can we explain the fact that so many of today’s reality TV stars allow themselves to look so bad on screen? And by bad I mean shallow, selfish, immoral and stupid.
The good news is that most of them have really nice hair.