DURING THE DECADE OF THE EIGHTIES, THERE WERE MANY HAIRLESS HEROES AND BALD FUNNYMEN ON PRIME-TIME TELEVISION.
In the 1980s, could a man with no hair compete with men flaunting the then-omnipresent mullet? Patrick Stewart, the inimitable Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, proved that he could definitely “make it so” (to borrow one of the character’s famous catchphrases).
The captain of the new starship Enterprise commanded not only his able crew but also a huge following among television viewers — and he commanded the attention of a considerable number of women, who found his gleaming dome as attractive as his steely gaze. Stewart became a rare heartthrob, the kind whose looks and manner combine to make him appealing to a wide range of women, including those who like their men with intellect and soul as well as a noble profile.
As in the 1970s, the decade of the 1980s found quite a few bald and balding men in leading roles in television dramas and comedies. Pernell Roberts, who had started playing the title role in Trapper John, M.D. toward the tail end of the 1970s, continued to prosper for the first half of the decade, gracing the screen with both his bald head and his playfully intense performances. Roberts had his hands full keeping his co-star, Gregory Harrison, from stealing attention, but he managed it with skill.
Elsewhere — at St. Elsewhere, to be exact — a large ensemble was headed by three actors, two of whom were bald. Ed Flanders’ portrayal of Dr. Donald Westphall earned him four Best Actor Emmy nominations (one of which he won); Norman Lloyd’s Dr. Daniel Auschlander may never have been as lauded, but his work was crucial in keeping the series engaging throughout its six-year run.
Bald cops were also part of the 1980s TV landscape
About this same time, Steve Boccho was revolutionizing the police series with Hill Street Blues. While Michael Conrad may not have been the actual lead in the series, his Phil Esterhaus character was much loved, and he is the one responsible for the series’ most famous moment: ending each opening roll call with the all important “Let’s be careful out there.”
Dennis Franz wasn’t part of Hill Street Blues until season 6, when his Lieutenant Norman Buntz was added to the ensemble. Franz proved so popular that a spin-off, Beverly Hills Buntz, was called for — and as a bonus, his co-star onBuntz, Peter Jurasik, also was part of the balding fraternity. Unfortunately, the show was no ratings bonanza and died a quick death; but it gave Franz something to do before NYPD Blue arrived in the next decade.
Another crime show came along in the late 1980s to give one of the 1970s’ most beloved and popular comedic stars a chance to demonstrate his dramatic talent. Carroll O’Connor took over the Rod Steiger role in the TV version of In the Heat of the Night and quickly proved that playing the iconic Archie Bunker for a decade or so hadn’t harmed his “serious” chops one bit.
Fred Dryer, the football player turned actor, may not have had the rage and skill of O’Connor, but they did have receding hairlines in common. Dryer made his acting name as the star of Hunter, playing for seven profitable seasons a wily Los Angeles police sergeant who was not above bending the rules.
It may not be fair to include Bruce Willis for Moonlighting, since he still sported a fair amount of hair while on that troubled behind-the-scenes romantic comedy/mystery series. But all of the “other worlders” from Alien Nation definitely belong in this list. True, the actors may have been wearing bald caps (albeit heavily decorated), but the characters were most definitely hairless.
Gerald McRaney is also somewhat iffy for Simon and Simon, since he wore so many hats while tracking down villains that his actual hair status is hard to determine. But a few years later, when he starred on the sitcom Major Dad, he was looking good with a much higher forehead.
The new Fox TV featured a bald comedian
The then-fledgling Fox Network featured a young actor with a very receding hairline as the male star of Duet, one of the first shows on its prime time schedule. Matthew Laurance’s show hung on for a few years but never really took off, yet he made the most of his time on the air.
A veteran of TV comedies, The Jeffersons’ Sherman Hemsley had much better luck with his new 1980s series Amen. Hemsley played a dishonest church deacon. The series was indifferently received by critics but managed a healthy five-year run. Similarly, Howard Hesseman, whose hair loss had become more pronounced since his days on WKRP in Cincinnati, found gainful employment as the lead in Head of the Class, a “nothing special” laugher that also ran for five seasons, although Hesseman bowed out after season four.
Dabney Coleman was among the balding brethren who headlined sitcoms that didn’t succeed commercially, although both his Buffalo Bill and his The Slap Maxwell Story had a lot to recommend them, not the least of them being his enjoyably nasty turns. But he was far from the only balding actor to star in a flop sitcom: witness Tim Conway (Ace Crawford, Private Eye), Ed Asner (Off the Rack), Mickey Rooney (One of the Boys), Barnard Hughes (Mr. Merlin and The Cavanaughs), Peter Boyle (Joe Bash) and Jack Weston (The Four Seasons).
Not all of our bald leading men starred in notable series in the 1980s, but the mere fact that they were out there making a statement about men with hair loss makes all of them notable.