It all started with dolls.
As a little boy, I was a big fan of Lynda Carter and the television show
Wonder Woman. Also a budding kleptomaniac, I stole my cousin’s dolls for
my fantasy haircut playtime. Her twelve-inch Wonder Woman doll went
home with me tucked into my tube sock, hidden under my bell bottoms. Like
all dolls, it was about long hair for me. I would inevitably administer shorter
and shorter haircuts until the dolls were bald. Bald dolls ended up hidden in
the bottom of the trash. The stolen Lynda Carter/Wonder Woman doll was no
Shame wrecked me for stealing my cousin’s dolls, destroying them,
then throwing them away as useless. I tried to block all that out of my head,
since I had to cut hair.
Later, while other guys in high school boasted interest in cars, sports,
and sex with women, my intense haircutting compulsions led to shoplifting
dolls. Supply and demand dictated I steal as many dolls as I could to keep
Dan Rather reported about serial killers on the evening news at the
time. Ted Bundy and The Hillside Strangler murdered women and tossed
their bodies aside like trash. Was I a serial doll thief/haircutter? It wasn’t a
perfect fit. What the hell was wrong with me?
Maybe I just wanted to be a hairdresser.
In 1982, I found myself watching a made-for-TV movie called Hotline
starring Lynda Carter, (aka Wonder Woman in the hit TV series). TV Guide
explained that Lynda Carter played a telephone call center operator who was
being stalked by a murderous madman. It sounded interesting. Mom and
Dad watched the movie with me.
I didn’t know until a half hour into the movie that Lynda Carter’s
stalker, the murderous madman, was called “The Barber” and would cut off
women’s hair before he killed his victims. He would call our leading lady’s
hotline and threaten her in a gravelly, intense voice.
“This. Is. The. Barber!”
I was sick to my stomach. A compulsive haircutter turned murderer. I
had no idea how to sort anything hair-oriented out in my head. Nothing
made sense in my seventeen-year-old brain. All I knew was I, too, was a
weirdo and deserved to be punished.
One of Lynda Carter’s call center co-workers answered the phone.
“This. Is. The. BARBER…”
“It’s for you,” the co-worker announced. “It’s him again.”
The call center colleague transfers the call to Lynda. “THIS. IS. THE.
Poor Lynda Carter. Not much of a wonder woman in this movie. She
may have taken the telephone threats in stride, but I was a mess.
The movie’s wacky plot wove in and out for ninety more minutes. I
couldn’t breathe. My parents were sitting a few feet away. Surely, they could
sense how uncomfortable, yet titillated, I was. Fuck. I was guilty by
By then I knew I was gay but hadn’t done anything about it yet. I
didn’t hate women. And I certainly didn’t want to murder anyone. All I
wanted to do was cut hair.
Finally, at the film’s climax, the stalker/killer/barber appears out of the
shadows. It was an added jab to my senses that The Barber was wearing
makeup: black eyeliner and rosy rouge. Sicko! A sure sign he was no doubt
a conflicted, diabolical homosexual like I was.
Our leading lady was in big trouble. She wept and wailed at her
makeup-wearing-stalker. Pop cultures away from her crime-fighting alter
ego, she practically spoon fed herself to her attacker as he towed her off to
his killing field.
I couldn’t deny the personal parallels between me and the movie.
Lynda Carter/Wonder Woman was “kidnapped” like I stole the Wonder
Woman doll. And she was about to get an unreasonable haircut, like I had
done to dozens of dolls!
My parents were not impressed with the movie. I sat traumatized on
the couch and watched The Barber cut a sizable chunk out of Lynda’s hair
with big scary scissors. She wiggled and writhed around in agony watching
her beautiful hair fall to the ground. Likewise, I wiggled and writhed around
on the family couch.
Suddenly, we heard the leading man off in the distance. The Barber
stopped his hair-cutting frenzy. Lynda Carter escaped, with half of her hair
cut off. She hid in the bathroom.
The Barber lumbered like Frankenstein to our half-shorn heroine who
has found a long, spear-like instrument on the bathroom wall. With the short
hair on half of her head sticking out, Lynda Carter perfectly harpoons the
drag-faced sicko. The arrow travels right through his heart and out his back.
The Barber topples forward and dies; the fatal spear now struck in the
bathroom door. Our leading man appears and catches our leading lady in his
arms like a sack of potatoes and Hotline was finally over.
I felt terrible. Intellectually, I knew Lynda Carter was merely an actress
in a movie. She was no doubt wearing a cut-up fright wig. But imagine living
with the short unwanted hairstyle for up to a year of grow out? Why did this
matter to me so much?
Today, I’m proud to say that some of my friends are fabulous dragfaced
people. Sickos in the best way. I became a wigmaker for theatre at the
age of thirty.
Recently, I found the whole movie of Hotline posted on YouTube. IMDB
gave it six out of ten stars. Re-watching it was wild for me. It’s been almost
forty years since I first saw this ditty and I still remember the ending almost
frame by frame.
My only shame is admitting, back in the day, I sheared an effigy of
Lynda Carter and put her in the trash.
Memoirist Dennis Milam Bensie's latest work, Thirty Years a Dresser, chronicled his career working backstage as a dresser for theatre. Bensie's debut memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men, was named one of "the best overlooked books of the year" by America's oldest LGBT interest magazine, The Advocate. His second memoir One Gay American was chosen as a finalist in both the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. Short stories and essays by Dennis Milam Bensie have been seen in The Huffington Post, Queen Mob's Teahouse, and The Good Men Project. The author has been a presenter at Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and at Montana's very first gay pride festival.
Image: Thrift Store, Nov. 2016, Joe Linker.