The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, January 16, 2003  

The Passing of Marlene Dietrich -- And of Richard Silbert

I now live in Philadelphia, but I lived in Washington, D.C., for 11 years, and I am very particular about who, if anyone, cuts my hair. And so it was with considerable pleasure that after living in Washington for a few years I found myself regularly visiting the late Richard Silbert, a stylist who was an artist in every sense of the term.

The salon for which Richard then worked, Axis, on Connecticut Ave. just north of Dupont Circle, was, well, quite chic and fashionable, and a place where a very nice glass of wine was included in the session’s tab.

To be honest, if I weren’t as good-looking as I am, I might have felt intimidated entering said salon, but such is the concern of lesser mortals, and I can understand the emotions of those who found Axis forbidding or intimidating.

In those days, I was very fastidious about my hair. I remember once arriving for an appointment and being greeted by one of the “shampoo girls,” rather than the regular maîtresse d’hôtel, who was convinced I was there to set up an appointment and not to have my hair cut. “But your hair looks perfect,” she said incredulously, delivering a compliment that I am pleased to say I have become used to over the years, passing the age of 39 just recently with all of the hair on my head intact and not a gray hair in sight.

Regardless, Richard knew what to do, and despite the fact that my already fairly short hair was cut by this artist every three weeks, he would spend an hour -- an entire hour! -- fussing over my head. Richard even once told me I was his favorite cut

I attended Richard’s memorial service after he died, a service at which they asked everyone who felt inclined to say a few words about Richard and what he meant to them. I said nothing, as is my custom when there are strangers in the room, but so many mourners said the same words I would have said that I felt well and good and healed. Some even relayed that Richard regularly told them he was his or her favorite cut. I was not offended.

I have so many stories about Richard, but my favorite is one that pertains to Marlene Dietrich.

You see, while Richard was working at Axis, the salon put up an exhibit of Hollywood memorabilia that included a large, prominently displayed, black-and-white framed photograph of Dietrich that Richard borrowed from a friend.

After this theme was swapped out for another, the subject of which I can no longer recall, it became incumbent upon Richard to take the framed Dietrich photograph home in order to return it to its rightful owner.

Of all days, Richard chose May 6, 1992, to carry the portrait from Axis, in Dupont Circle, to his home in Logan Circle.

The significance? Dietrich died on May 6, 1992.

So there’s Richard, walking east on Q Street, N.W., carrying a massive framed photograph of Miss Dietrich under his arm and toward his home just six blocks away.

Despite having been busy at work all day and being behind the curve on the day’s headlines, Richard, when confronted by a pedestrian walking in the other direction who said, “You know, she died today,” quickly gathered his wits and said, “I know, isn’t that sad?” Of course, Richard had no clue at that point of Miss Dietrich’s demise and, it is no surprise, was devastated by the news.

It was probably two weeks later when Richard and I discussed this event, at which point I suggested he would have been better off holding Miss Dietrich’s portrait high above his head, all in an effort to lead a spontaneous funereal procession in her honor through the gay ghetto known as Dupont Circle, replicating the custom of small villages in Guatemala and Honduras, among other Third-World locales.

Alas, it was not to be. And, alas, there is all too much that, with Richard’s passing, will not be.

I miss you, my friend. You have no idea how much. Or maybe you do.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |