Hair Today, Ltd.
Categories: Entrepreneurship, Lifestyle | Culture
In the Fall of 1990, Joey Skaggs launched two hoaxes simultaneously. As Dr. Joseph Schlafer, he was marketing Comacocoon, the perfect vacation alternative. As Dr. Joseph Chenango, a Native American surgeon, he launched a new permanent cure for baldness — scalp transplants from cadavers. He called it Hair Today, Ltd.. Skaggs’ studio at 107 Waverly Place in New York City served as the telephone command post for both hoaxes.
Dr. Chenango was soliciting scalp donors with no history of male pattern baldness who worked in high risk occupations, such as electric linesmen or big game hunters. These, he reasoned, would make suitable donors in the event of their untimely death. He was also soliciting new scalp recipients–people wanting to undergo a scalp transplant.
He promoted his nationwide search with a brochure designed in the venerable style of the ubiquitous, but highly questionable, hair growth companies. He mailed it to 1,500 journalists as if they were potential clients. The brochure had “Before” and “After” photos of satisfied clients, however, there were only three styles of healthy heads, all of which looked like the good doctor’s grandmother’s wigs.
Enclosed with the brochure was an ad made to look like it had appeared in The Village Voice (it hadn’t). The ad said “Wanted: Healthy Scalps…”
Also included was a questionnaire with a diagram for prospective clients to draw in their hair lines.
The questionnaire asked such questions as:
- Are you in a high risk profession?
- Do you have a terminal disease?
- Do you have any scabs, scars, moles or tattoos on your scalp?
- What is your natural hair color?
- Are you currently carrying an organ donor card?
For potential recipients, the questionnaire asked:
- At what age did you begin to experience hair loss?
- Approximately how much money have you spent on hair replacement methods?
- Do you have any nervous disorders?
- Are you willing to wait an average of three years for an acceptable donor and for the surgery to take place?
- Are you willing to put $3,500 into an escrow account while you wait for your donor?
- Would you be interested in purchasing a franchise of Hair Today, Ltd.?
Hundreds of phone calls, letters, and faxes were logged. When the hoax was revealed, there were many very disappointed people.
Wrote Tom Rademacher of the Grand Rapids Press Metro,
“When I spot an alleged cure for baldness, I take note. You would too if every time the sun shone you had to wear a baseball cap, which can be pretty embarrassing at dressy outdoor affairs…”
And, said Mike Barnicle from the Boston Globe,
“Each and every morning of my life, sad but true, a little more of me goes right down the drain. That’s why I got so upset the other day after reading in the newspaper that Dr. Joseph Chenango was a total fraud…I placed my trust in Dr. Chenango. I believed him because I wanted to and needed to believe him. Like a host of others, my hairline has receded so badly that the top of my head resembles the landscape near Kuwait.”
- Baldness is pate worse than death for new scalp recipients, by Doug Clark, Spokesman-Review Spokane Chronicle, November 24, 1990
- Bamboozling the media, by Larry Tye, Boston Sunday Globe, December 9, 1990
- Baldness cure latest hoax fed in scoops to media, by Larry Tye (of the Boston Globe), Arizona Republic, December 10, 1990
- Scam artist has pulled some lulus, The Times Leader, December 10, 1990
- Baldness 'cure' is a scam, by Larry Tye (of the Boston Globe), Anniston Star, Alabama, December 10, 1990
- Not everyone spots this bold-faced liar, Editoria by Todd Rademacher, Grand Rapids Press
- Go, my son, and thin not, Editorial by Mike Barnicle, Boston Globe, December 11, 1990
- Don't Mess with the Press, Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies, by Stan Mack, The Village Voice, December 25, 1990
- No Problem, but just in case..., Editorial by George Smith, Anniston Star, Alabama, December 12, 1990
- Hoax Artist Out to Prove News Media Vulnerability, by Larry Tye (for the Boston Globe), Omaha World Herald, December 16, 1990
- The Merry Pranksters And the Art of the Hoax, by Mark Dery, The New York Times, December 23, 1990
- Joke Master, by Clare McHugh, The New York Observer, January 21, 1991
- Skaggs Bait: Prank-pulling media jammer gets the last laugh, Screw, February 18, 1991
- 40 Million U.S. Men Deal with Baldness: Some Proud of the 'Chrome Domes', by Jennifer Harper, The Washington Times, December 25, 1997