I found this Wikipedia article — "Toothbrush moustache" — last night after asserting that Hitler adopted the Hilter mustache to emulate Charlie Chaplin. The topic came up in connection with the array of photographs — Obama/Hitler/Stalin — that we're talking about in the previous post. Meade didn't believe me, and my belief — even if it's wrong — is at least common enough that I could easily do the research. (A couple weeks ago, the roles were reversed: Meade asserted a misconception common enough to have a Snopes article declaring it false.)
So, according to Wikipedia, the toothbrush mustache "originally became popular in America in the late 19th century."
It was a neat, uniform, low-maintenance style that echoed the standardization and uniformity brought on by industrialization, in contrast to the more flamboyant moustaches typical of the 19th century such as the Imperial, Walrus, Handlebar, Horseshoe, Pencil and Fantastico moustaches.Brought on by industrialization? Is that some stray unsupported — Marxist? — opinion that needs editing out of Wikipedia? There is a citation. It's to a 2007 Vanity Fair article by Rich Cohen called "Becoming Adolf" ("Hitler's Toothbrush mustache is one of the most powerful symbols of the last century, an inch of hair that represents infinite evil. The author had his reasons for deciding to wear one.") All Cohen says is that the toothbrush mustache was "a bit of modern efficiency," replacing the old style mustache, which paralleled the way "the old, monarchical world... was about to be crushed by the rising tide of assembly-line America."
There's a big sidetrack here about whether the taste for the modern — clean lines, low ornamentation — corresponds to a loss of individuality inherent in assembly line production. And we've got to get back to the question at hand: whether Hitler adopted the mustache to look like Chaplin. But I must take this sidetrack long enough to say that in the 1940 movie "The Great Dictator," when Chaplin exploits his resemblance to Hitler by playing a Hitler character and a Jewish man who looks like him, he concludes with a big speech that is mostly about overcoming, not fascism, but machines.
[M]achinery that gives abundance has left us in want.... More than machinery we need humanity.... Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines....(I've read Chaplin's Autobiography, and it is full of fretting about modern machines. (And in the movie "Modern Times," the Chaplin character goes nuts doing assembly line work and then gets caught up inside a big machine.))
Now, back to the question: Did Hitler try to look like Chaplin? I'm sticking with the Rich Cohen article, because the writing is better than Wikipedia's generic style.
Ron Rosenbaum, perhaps the only historian to give the mustache its proper due, fixes its appearance with confidence. "It was Chaplin's first, before Hitler's," he writes in an essay from The Secret Parts of Fortune. "Chaplin adopted a little black crepe blot beneath the nose for his Mack Sennett silent comedies after 1915, Hitler didn't adopt his until late 1919...."But, Cohen says, there's some conflicting material. Someone who served with Hitler in WWI wrote an essay saying he cut a bigger mustache down so it would fit under the gas mask. And then there's Hitler's sister-in-law Bridget.
Bridget Hitler was Irish and lived in Liverpool, where, according to the memoir, the young Adolf spent a lost winter.I'm reading this out loud and Meade shouts "The Fifth Beatle!" — which suggests a fantastico idea for a photoshop using this iconic early Beatles pic, adding Hitler, and dabbing the Fab Four with little black smudges across the philtrum. I continue with the dubious tale of Bridget Hitler:
Bridget (or whoever) says she often bickered with her brother-in-law. Because he was disagreeable, but mostly because she could not stand his unruly 'stache. In one of the great inadvertent summaries of historical character, she writes that in this, as in everything, he went too far.The year in question was 1912–13. So we're currently observing the 100th anniversary of the mustache, if Bridget Hitler — not the gas mask or Chaplin — inspired distinctive shaving. But we do know that...
[Hitler] was wearing the Toothbrush at the first Nazi meetings, when there were just a few people in a room full of empty chairs. One day, an early financial supporter of the Nazi Party advised Hitler to grow out his mustache. He did this delicately but firmly, in the manner of a man trying to protect an investment. The mustache made the Nazi look freakish. Hitler was advised to grow it at least "to the end of the lips." Hitler was a vain man, and you can almost feel him bristle. Here's what Hitler said: "If it is not the fashion now, it will be later because I wear it."The exact opposite became true: It can never be in fashion, because he wore it. You can't even indulge a love of Chaplin, because as Rich Cohen puts is: "If you dress like Chaplin, you run the risk of being mistaken for Hitler, as, if you dress like Evel Knievel, as I do when it rains, you run the risk of being mistaken for Elvis."
Ron Rosenbaum argues that the presence of Chaplin's 'stache on Hitler's face encouraged Western leaders to underestimate the Führer. "Chaplin's mustache became a lens through which to look at Hitler," he writes. "A glass in which Hitler became merely Chaplinesque: a figure to be mocked more than feared, a comic villain whose pretensions would collapse of his own disproportionate weight like the Little Tramp collapsing on his cane. Someone to be ridiculed rather than resisted."So, it can't be ascertained whether Hitler first shaved his mustache down because of Chaplin, but the resemblance to Chaplin certainly mattered. I think it's more likely that Hitler was not trying to look like Chaplin — even if it's true that Hitler — like most people — loved Chaplin. First: Why would a political leader choose to look like a clown? Even if it helped him to have some people not take him seriously, he needed to be taken seriously to acquire power. Second: The toothbrush mustache was a big fashion in Germany early enough that the New York Times published an item in 1907: "'Toothbrush' Mustache/German Women Resent Its Usurpation of the 'Kaiserbart.'"
"Man is naturally very ugly," [wrote one German woman.] "The only natural adornment he ever had was his mustache, and that he is now ruthlessly mutilating. Instead of the peaceful hirsute ornament of the past he is marring his face with a lot of bristles."Peaceful! An interesting association. To bristle is — I'm quoting the OED — "to display temper or indignation, to 'show fight.'" Imagine blaming the mustache. But that is how some people like to think. It's not the human being, but the inanimate thing that is the source of evil. Cohen lampoons that kind of thinking:
... I had seen Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, interviewed by Bill O'Reilly, who, citing Stalin and Hitler, said he thought atheists, because of their lack of restraining faith, were more susceptible to evil. To which Dawkins (in essence) replied: both Stalin and Hitler wore mustaches — do we therefore think the mustache was the cause of their behavior? I experienced this as an epiphany: By Jove! I said to myself. It was the mustache!