The Price of Stardom by Sabrina S.
Nathalie Rourke burst through the front door, whooping loudly. “Darling! I got the part!”
Her husband, Robert, grinned. “Thought you would, you’re so brilliant. Congratulations, Nat!” He hugged her and fastened his mouth on hers, stroking her long, shiny brown hair. Finally he let her go. “I’ve put a bottle of bubbly in the fridge.”
Nathalie couldn’t keep the grin from her face. “Well, I can’t say you don’t have faith in me!” She threw her bag and the script onto the hall stand.
“What part is it again?” Robert said, feeling a bit embarrassed. He loved Nathalie dearly but often became so engrossed in his own job that he lost track of the movies and TV shows she auditioned for. She’d done lots of commercials and TV parts, but this was her first big break in the movies.
“Clara, the maid. It’s quite a good part. She ends up a strong character.” Nathalie watched while Robert popped the cork and filled two flute glasses with frothy bubbles. “I’ll have to wear a black dress with a frilly apron and cap.”
Robert groaned throatily. “God, woman, you’ll give me terrible ideas.” He kissed her again. “Last year when you played that schoolgirl…I got very little sleep just thinking about it.”
“And I got very little sleep while you thought about it,” Nathalie grinned. “I’ll have to put my hair up. Maybe I can bring the costume home and dress up in it and you can take my cap off and pull the pins out of my hair and – ”
Nathalie didn’t get the chance to finish her sentence. Robert’s mouth was on hers again and the champagne was warm and flat by the time they got round to drinking it.
Over the next few weeks Nathalie learned the part of Clara. The movie, Jazz Baby, was a thriller set in the 1920s. Clara as a part was excellent from a supporting actress’ point of view. Clara was personal maid to the heroine, sexy flapper Phoebe, who was being stalked and ended up shooting her would-be murderer. Clara herself came up with an important clue to the identity of the killer. The soundtrack featured 1920s jazz, and the costumes, as a lot of the action was set in a 1920s nightclub, were beautiful: glittering dresses covered in sequins, beads and feathers. It wasn’t a high budget movie and none of the actors was really well known, but Nathalie liked the script and the director, and had a hunch the movie could pick up an award somewhere – which could only be fantastic for her career. In fact she had a hunch it might launch a few of them into quite busy big screen careers.
Filming was due to commence in two weeks when Nathalie got the break most actors only dream about. The Phone Call.
“Nathalie!” It was Jeff, the producer. “We’ve got a major problem. Our Phoebe has broken her leg horse riding. Horse riding, I ask you, with the movie so close! We’ve got everything booked and HAVE to start filming the week after next. Is there any way you can learn the part of Phoebe? You don’t know this, but it was a toss-up at the auditions whether we’d give you Phoebe’s part or Clara’s. Please say you can.”
If filming was held up Jeff and his backers stood to lose a lot of money, but that was the last thing on Nathalie’s mind. “Yes!” she screamed down the phone. “Yes! Yes!”
Nathalie worked frantically with her drama coach for the next fortnight, and dreamed of wearing the gorgeous costumes. Luckily she was a similar size to Anna Andrews, who’d been originally chosen for Phoebe, and the costumes didn’t need much altering.
Two days before shooting commenced Nathalie was on set for final costume fittings. “Gorgeous!” Byron, the bleached, bespectacled director, ran his hands down Nathalie’s chemise dress and admired her Louis heel pumps. “Fits you like a glove, sweetie. Now only one thing left to do. Off to hairdressing with you. We’re doing publicity shots this afternoon so it’ll be makeup after that.”
“Oh, to see all the ways I can put my hair up?” Nathalie wriggled out of the dress behind a screen. Byron might be gay but she still wasn’t keen on him seeing her body – unless it was on film, Robert was the only man who got lucky there.
“Oh dear, didn’t you realise?” Byron sounded worried. Nathalie threw on her jeans and t shirt and emerged from behind the screen. “Clara was a servant, and dressed in a very traditional manner, with her hair in a bun. Phoebe is a fashionable lady, darling. A flapper, a bright young thing. This is the 1920s, when fashionable women cut their hair. You MUST know it’s the decade that made the bob famous.”
Nathalie blanched. “Cut my hair? What are we talking about? A bob?”
Byron wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Now don’t go all tizzy on me, we can’t afford to lose you. We’ve already lost one Phoebe and shooting starts in two days. Your contract says you’ll comply with what we want to do with your looks. You wouldn’t want word to get around that you’re difficult to work with, would you?” He said it with just the merest hint of a threat.
Nathalie stroked her hair. God! She’d spent the last five years growing it, particularly as Robert adored long hair. What would he say if she came home with a short bob? And what would it do to her career if she said no?
“Can’t I have a wig instead?” she pleaded.
“I don’t think all these long locks of yours will fit under one,” Byron said, picking up a handful of her hair. “It’s too thick. I really think it’ll sit better if it’s cut. Now don’t be silly, Nats. Just think, Sigourney Weaver shaved her head for Alien 3 and then there was Demi Moore in GI Jane. We’re not asking you to do that. You’ll get a lovely fashionable haircut – free of charge!” Byron gave her an orthodontically enhanced smile. He put a hand on Nat’s back and propelled her out the door. “Let’s go to Hairdressing.”
Hairdressing was located in another building in the studio complex. Byron called cheerily at the door, “Hello crimpers! We’ve got Phoebe here!”
“Won’t be a minute!” There was only one hairdresser working, a slim, red-haired women who was busy cutting a man’s hair.
Nathalie recognised the leading man, Philip. Or rather, didn’t recognise him. Last time she’d seen him he had shoulder-length, wavy hair. Now his dark blond hair was being clipped quite short at the back and sides, with longer waves left on top.
“Jeez,” Philip said, as the stylist put the clippers down and started to snip away with scissors. “Haven’t seen my ears in ages!”
The hairdresser laughed and cut Philip’s hair quite close around his ears. Nathalie looked at the pile of cut hair on Philip’s shoulders and lap, and tried not to feel nervous.
“Heavens,” said Byron, squeezing her arm. “You’d think we were about to inflict surgery on you without anaesthetic! Don’t look so frightened, Nats. It’s only a haircut, and you can grow it again when we’ve finished filming.” Byron’s own hair was a white-blonde crewcut which saw the clippers at least once a month.
“There you go!” The stylist put down the edger she had used to shave his neck and sideburns. She dusted Philip’s neck of clippings, and unclipped the cape. Philip ruefully ran his hands through his newly shorn hair. “Thanks, Marla. I think!”
“Think of your career, Philip darling!” Byron said playfully. “And you look sooooo masculine!” he called to Philip’s departing back. He turned his attention to Marla, the stylist. “Now, Marla, this is Nathalie, who’s playing Phoebe in Jazz Baby. She’s our leading lady, so she has to have the most stylish haircut of the era.”
“Eton crop.” Marla nodded.
“Agree totally,” said Byron.
“What?” said Nathalie. “What’s an Eton crop? Is that a bob?”
“Just sit down darling, and let Marla cut your hair.” Byron pushed her into the chair.
Nathalie was aware her hands were sweating as Marla fastened the cape around her neck and lifted out her long, shiny, seal-brown hair.
“Great hair,” Marla said conversationally. “In a way it’s a pity to have to cut it all off.”
Nathalie was feeling sicker and sicker. She’d never had her hair shorter than shoulder length, in fact she didn’t really like short hair on women, and thought it quite unfeminine.
Marla brushed her hair while Nathalie watched in the mirror. She saw her own face was quite pale with what had to be fright.
Marla gathered the lovely hair into a ponytail and fastened it with a rubber band. It hung down almost to the seat of the chair.
Then, before Nathalie knew what was happening, Marla had produced a pair of scissors from the pocket in her smock, had opened them and begun to close the blades on the thick ponytail.
Nathalie felt a tugging near the collar of her T-shirt, and heard the scissors straining to cut her sheaves of hair. Skkkkkkrrriiiiiiik! Skkkkrrrrrriiiiik! In horror she watched as short locks swung forward to caress her jawbone. “My hair!”
“You can keep the ponytail,” Marla offered kindly, still forcing the blades into Nathalie’s hair. Crunch! Crunch! Nathalie heard the sounds of her hair being cut off magnified a hundred fold. Unable to stop herself, Nathalie felt tears swimming in her eyes and then running down her cheeks. Her lovely hair! Was this the price of stardom? And was it worth it?
The tugging continued as Nathalie’s ponytail was slowly severed. Marla had an expression of extreme concentration on her face as she hacked away.
With one last tug the last of Nathalie’s long hair was liberated. The rough bob swung around her face and Marla breathed a sigh of relief and massaged her fingers.
Marla carefully placed the glossy ponytail on the cabinet in front of the mirror. Looking at it, Nathalie hiccuped a sob and Byron wordlessly handed her a box of Kleenex. “Darling, I hope you’re made of sterner stuff than this! It’s only a haircut!”
“Is it over?” Nathalie whispered hopefully.
“‘Fraid not,” Marla said in a cheerful voice. “You won’t recognise yourself by the time I’ve finished.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Nathalie sobbed.
Marla patted her shoulder and parted her hair firmly on one side with a practised flick of her comb. “Look, don’t worry, Nathalie. Only the most beautiful women could get away with an Eton crop. You’ve got a lovely hairline and a well-shaped head. You’ll look fantastic! Far better than Anna would have, just between you, me and Byron.”
“Agree TO-tally,” Bryon said enthusiastically.
Marla pinned up some of the back of Nathalie’s hair, and wet the hair hanging down her neck with a sprayer. Then, to Nathalie’s horror, she picked up a straight razor.
“W-what are you doing?” Nathalie gasped.
“Giving you an authentic Eton crop,” replied Marla. “In those days women got their hair cut off in barber shops. Barbers would use razors like this as well as scissors. They also had hand-operated clippers and in the 20s electric clippers were just starting to come in. So I’m trying to stay true to the period. Aren’t you glad I did my 1920s research, Byron?”
“I’m very impressed,” said Byron, pulling up the chair next to Nathalie, sitting down and crossing his legs.
Marla combed out a lock of Nathalie’s hair, held it firmly, and began to stroke it with the razor, cutting it to about half an inch long.
Nathalie couldn’t see what she was doing, but felt the razor pulling at her hair. Then the pulling stopped and Marla dropped a handful of hair to the floor.
“Might be better if you bent your neck forward a bit,” Marla suggested, positioning Nathalie’s head.
Nathalie felt very vulnerable, imprisoned by Byron at her side and the razor-wielding Marla behind her. She had no idea how short her hair was being cut, but was aware that the middle of her neck felt naked.
Marla combed out more hair and shortened it swiftly with the razor. It fell neatly into place against Nathalie’s head.
“Is that short enough, Byron?” Marla enquired.
Byron ran his fingers through Nathalie’s hair and Nathalie gasped as she realised there wasn’t much hair there to run them through. “Fine, Marla. Are you going to expose her hairline at the neck?”
“That’s the style,” Marla agreed. “I’ll taper it a bit.”
Marla kept working at the back of Nathalie’s head. Nathalie felt more and more hair get razored away at her nape.
She shuddered as she felt the razor shearing away the hair behind her ears. This was a serious haircut! It felt like it was shorter than her own husband’s! Nathalie bit back another rush of tears as she heard the blade rasping against her locks.
The razor was down near her hairline now. Marla gently tapered the hair with little strokes of the razor until the “m” of Nathalie’s hairline was clearly visible.
Marla let the rest of the hair out of the clips and it tumbled down Nathalie’s head. It was only when she felt hair against her neck again that Nathalie understood just how short her hair was being cut.
Then her hair was sprayed and combed, and the razor tugged at it, apparently not cutting it to half an inch all over, but forming some kind of step rather high up at the back. Nathalie didn’t know what an Eton crop was, but she was extremely relieved it wasn’t a first cousin to a crewcut.
“That’s looking better already,” Marla commented, running her fingers through the back of Nathalie’s cropped hair. “Long hair is all very nice, but personally I think you need a bit of texture in a hairstyle.” Her own red hair was a short, layered cut that framed her face in points and feathers.
Marla prepared the side of Nathalie’s head, wetting it thoroughly and pinning some of it up. Now Nathalie could see what she was doing, and was aghast when Marla simply combed out a thick lock of hair above her ear and dove the razor into it, stroking away until the lock was severed and dropped to the floor. The cut hair sat almost just above Nathalie’s ear.
“Nice and short,” said Byron approvingly.
Marla cut away the hair in front of Nathalie’s ear in the same method, holding it taut and brushing the super-sharp blade against it till it was shortened.
The pinned-up hair came down and was cut in long layers to a point somewhere above Nathalie’s ear. She couldn’t see for the tears flooding her eyes again; she could only see the chopped-off locks dropping to her shoulder.
“Nats, darling, do stop crying, there’s a dear,” said Byron, patting her hair-covered shoulder. “Remember we’ve got the photo shoot today, can’t have our star with red eyes.” His voice was sounding a little strained. Taking a deep breath, Nathalie tried to pull herself together and not mind that her hair was being forcibly cut short with an instrument usually used on men’s beards.
Marla had moved to the other side, wetting, pinning, and razoring. Nathalie wordlessly watched her transformation in the mirror, not daring to blow her nose in case Marla missed and cut her ear. She noticed her ears looked neat and small and well-shaped. Maybe the haircut would suit her after all.
Rasp, tug. The razor biting at her hair sounded loud and not unlike Robert shaving his face in the morning.
Nathalie heaved a sigh of relief when Marla put down the razor and wiped the clippings from her hands. She had a long lock of hair reaching almost to her ears as a fringe; the top was, in retrospect to the rest of her hair, quite long.
“Is that it?”
“Not quite, I’ll just blend it a bit with the scissors.” Marla homed in with comb and scissors and cut Nathalie pointy sideburns; then she placed the scissors flat against Nathalie’s cheek and cut away the slight dark down that grew in front of her ears. It was a new experience for Nathalie and her eyes widened. She felt herself blushing.
Marla snipped away all around Nathalie’s head, cutting tiny bits of hair off here and there. She began to cut the sides shorter and shorter until Nathalie’s cape was covered in tiny clippings, the scissors snipping as swiftly as a barber’s. Nathalie watched spellbound as the hair around her ears was scissored close to her head. Then Marla bent Nathalie’s head forward and began to taper the nape even closer in a scissor-over-comb motion, moving the comb up the back of Nathalie’s head and snipping rapidly all the while, cutting off more and more hair until Nathalie began to wonder if she had any hair left back there. Her skin felt tight and tingly where her hair had been cropped very short. She felt clippings fall against her cold, naked neck. Marla snipped off the hairs growing below Nathalie’s hairline at the back.
“I don’t think we’ll shave it with a razor,” she said, “I want the hairs on her neck to look rather natural, she has such a well-shaped hairline. I’ll just tidy it up.” With that Marla flicked on a pair of clippers and ran them carefully up Nathalie’s neck, buzzing off the stray hairs growing low on the woman’s neck. Nathalie jumped when she felt the vibrating blades against her skin; this was totally alien to her. She had to admit she rather liked the feeling though, and was almost sorry that Marla only stroked her neck with the clippers three or four times.
Finally Marla scooped up a fingerful of pomade, and smoothed it into Nathalie’s hair. She combed Nathalie’s long fringe back behind her ear, and slicked down the sides.
“That’s it,” Marla pronounced.
“Gorgeous!” exclaimed Byron, getting up and walking in a circle around Natalie. “LOVE the back, darling!”
Marla picked up a mirror and showed Nathalie the back of her head. Nathalie gasped when she saw how short her hair was, cut like a boy’s around the hairline, shingled short up the back of her head. She said as much.
Byron and Marla hooted with laughter. “That’s why it’s an ETON crop, darling! It’s the haircut the schoolboys at Eton used to have,” Byron explained. “Fashionable ladies decided they’d get their hair cut like that too. But not many of them wore it as well as you do, Nats.”
Marla unfastened the cape and dusted the clippings from Nathalie’s neck. Now she could see herself in her own clothes, Nathalie gasped. She had no idea she’d look so good! Her neck looked long and graceful, her eyes huge with the hair drawn back from them.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe short hair could look good on a woman after all! Nobody could accuse her of looking unfeminine, even with her slicked-back short boy’s cut and her unisex jeans and T-shirt. And in Phoebe’s stunning clothes? She’d look a knockout!
Nathalie grinned, touching her cropped hair. “I can’t wait to get to makeup and wardrobe,” she said.
“Thank heavens for that!” exclaimed Byron with an exaggerated hand-over-heart gesture. “I was afraid you’d go off in a hissy fit!”
Marla winked at her behind Byron’s back. “Don’t forget to come back in a few weeks for a trim, will you?” She handed Nathalie the cut-off ponytail.
“I’ll be back,” Nathalie promised, still fingering the shorn hair at her nape in disbelief. Byron slipped his arm into hers and dragged her off to makeup.
The photo shoot went well. Nathalie and Philip giggled at each other’s short haircuts, especially as Nathalie’s was even shorter than Philip’s, until the photographer snapped at them and told them to behave.
“You look very sexy,” Philip murmured to her as they posed in their period clothing with a vintage Packard automobile. “As your leading man I’ll have no trouble with the love scenes.”
“I hope my husband feels the same,” Nathalie murmured back with her smile still fixed at the camera.
She was nervous as she drove home, negotiating the traffic on autopilot. The ponytail sat on the passenger seat. Already it seemed part of another life. Nathalie found it hard to believe that she’d had long hair only that morning. By now she was used to the feeling of her short, shingled hair cut close to her nape, and her slicked-back image in the mirror. The memory of the clippers shaving her neck made her almost shudder in pleasure then she brought herself back to earth. God, what if Robert hated her hair? The last thing she needed was a major row with filming due to start in two days!
The lights weren’t on in their semi-detached cottage, and Nathalie breathed a sigh of relief as she parked the car. She took a special package from the back seat, and raced inside, estimating Robert wouldn’t be far behind her.
She opened the package and slipped into the clothing it contained, touching up her makeup as she heard Robert’s key in the front door.
“Darling, are you home?” he called.
“Be there in a minute,” she replied, her heart thudding.
Checking herself in the mirror, she walked steadily into the living room where Robert was tugging at his tie.
He let out a long, low whistle. Nathalie was wearing one of the costumes from Jazz Baby, the elegant pale blue beaded chemise dress with spaghetti straps, and high, strappy sandals. She had a beaded, feathered headband fastened around her forehead, and had outlined her eyes in kohl and painted her mouth in a scarlet cupid’s bow. She held her hands behind her back.
“Fancy a Charleston?” Nathalie said shakily.
“Sod the Charleston,” Robert replied. “I fancy you, it’s even sexier than the schoolgirl costume!” In two long strides he was across the room with his arms around her.
Nathalie tensed as Robert felt up and down her back, and then her head.
“Where’s your hair?” he gasped, pulling off the headband and pushing his fingers into her short crop, brushing his fingers up the shingled, shorn nape in disbelief.
“Here,” Nathalie said, whisking out the ponytail from behind her back. “I had to cut it all off for the film. I didn’t know until today.” She hesitated. “Do you mind too much?”
Robert smoothed down her hair where he’d rumpled it and studied her carefully, stroking her short hair and caressing her naked ears. Nathalie held her breath. “Actually, it suits you,” he said finally. “I’d even venture to say it’s rather sexy. Especially in that dress. Speaking of which, how quickly can you get out of that dress without damaging it?”
Nathalie grinned, throwing her arms around him and burying her fingers in his brown hair. (She was right… her hair was shorter than his at the back) “I’ll show you,” she said.
Six months later Jazz Baby was released and proved to be a box office smash, catapulting its relatively unknown leads to stardom. The film was tipped to win an Academy Award. Even the soundtrack was a hit, with jazz suddenly cool on the Top 40. Nathalie’s Eton crop was the haircut of the year as far as fashion followers were concerned. Teenage girls and young women flocked to salons to have their long locks shorn in a look that transcended even Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel cut in popularity. Street fashions, too, echoed the movie, with Phoebe’s long line chemise dresses and wide legged pants selling like hotcakes.
And Nathalie Rourke, the hottest new star on the block? She kept her trademark Eton crop, even after filming was over. These days she visited her hairdresser every month and had the sides and back cut with clippers, because she adored the feeling of the blades buzzing her hair. Her next role paid six times what Jazz Baby did, and required her to have long hair. She couldn’t wait until the day’s filming was over to pull the wig from her head, ruffle her short crop and feel the fresh air on her neck again. The long ponytail that had been cut from her head had long since been consigned to its rightful place – the garbage.
(c) Copyright 1999, Sabrina S.