Hats off to the Fedora!

By Ken Bradbury

Someone from my hometown of Perry started a Facebook page where residents and former inhabitants of our little village could post pictures of recent happenings and of times long ago. It’s been a delight to watch the page develop as folks from various generations have scanned their family and school photos then pasted them onto this page of memories.

The routine usually goes something like this: someone will post a picture and ask if anyone can identify the people in the photo. No one will have a clue so I’ll make a phone call to my 94-year-dad who’s not on Facebook, describe the scene, and he’ll tell me who it is. Google has a “face ID” feature that claims to be able to memorize and put a name of faces once they’ve been posted. So far, no Google function can seem to beat Elmer.

And of course one of the most interesting things about this Facebook page has been watching the fashions change over the years … potluck women in full-length aprons, leg garters, and loads of bun hair styles for the ladies. All the while men’s fashion has remained pretty much the same with just a few nips and tucks over the years. But the one piece of masculine attire that seems to have lasted for decades is the fedora. There’s Uncle Johnny standing beside his steam engine wearing the fedora on his head, Uncle Bob eating fried chicken beside his ’46 Chevy with fedora in place, Grandpa Ralph smoking his pipe in the back yard with his fedora tilted at a rakish angle.

Some call them “gangster hats,” or “Panamas” but neither of those names sounded right for the Pike County farmers at the beginning and middle of the 20th century. Most men seemed to have a work fedora and a church fedora and the only difference in the two was the amount of grease stains and soybean dust collected around the rim. Most were white and in the summer time made of a lacquered straw, while wintertime might call for a felt fedora.

Football fans most readily associate the fedora with the likes of Bear Brant and Tom Landry. In fact, Landry has the depiction of a fedora on his tombstone in Texas and the Cowboys wore a fedora patch on their uniforms for one season in memory of the great Dallas coach.

I remember my Uncle Junior wearing his fedora long after they’d gone out of style in the rest of the world, and many Triopia and Jacksonville Theatre Guild plays have been adorned with his hats after his death. I think Junior would have been pleased.

I’ve gathered a small set of them over the years and last summer a young teenage actor deemed me “totally cool” for wearing them in public. He also thought that tight-legged jeans were cool so I didn’t put a great deal of stock in his fashion sense.

But it came as a bit of a shock when I received a phone call last week asking to borrow one of my fedoras. I have several in stock, never wanting to be caught fedora-less. The guy was a Hollywood actor who not only made several movies but also appeared as one of the Klingons on the original Star Trek series. We were to shoot a television commercial where he was to play a federal agent interrogating me about my habit of selling chainsaws too cheaply. Okay, a strange premise, but it was a cute script. Wanting to play the G-man correctly, he needed a fedora and so he asked me to bring a few along on the day we shot the scene. I thought to myself, What’s the deal? This Hollywood actor doesn’t own a fedora so he calls this old guy who lives in Arenzville? Don’t all actors have their own fedoras? I guess he’d never played a gangster or he’d spent his life relying upon the movie studios’ costume departments. Heck, I was sort of proud to see him plop it upon his well-filmed head.

We shot the scene in a morning’s time. It takes about three hours to do a 30 second commercial, and I sat there under the interrogation lights as he chomped his cigar and questioned me on how I could possibly be peddling chainsaws and lawn mowers at such cut-rate prices. It was fun working with a pro and he proved the private theory I’ve held that the more professional the actor, the more readily they take direction. An amateur will have “a better way.” The professional will do as the director asks him. I did okay with my part as the smart-aleck salesman, but when the commercial finally hits the networks I’m sure that I won’t care a whit about my performance. I’ll simply say, “Hey! That’s my fedora!”

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