HAIR OF THE YAK. This was something Lon Chaney, Jr. reportedly said as he sat groggy and still lightly popped in his make-up chair at 5AM. He sat there for hours as the hair from several yaks was glued to his brow and bridge, his cheek and chin, sipping Black Bush from a skinny silver flask the size of TV remote. Doug Mann, known the world over as Dogman, sat in a very similar chair as beauticians and barbers swarmed about him. The cumulative hum of five electric razors made his head feel like a hive and the points of a dozen Japanese shears and shark toothed thinners and finely stropped straights flitted and flashed in the bright, big-bulbed light of the vanity console, diving in every five minutes to sting his neck or nose, his ear. Dogman was being shaved. The process took almost as long as it had with Chaney, though it was, in fact, the converse, and Dogman had nothing to do but listen to Adia Kuznetzoff on a prop gramophone (its tin bloom pouring forth Faro-La Faro-Li in fine fettle) and reflect upon his life.
Dogman was surprisingly well adjusted. He fully accepted the way he looked. His mom had drank from the footprint of a stray Rott while she was pregnant with him and that was that. He had fond memories of his mother, a town beauty named Elsa, and the stories she read aloud while he and his brother Paul laid by the fire, he a bit farther from the flame than Paul (for his thick mat of hair rarely left him cold). She’d sit there with a glass of Merlot on a low slung fainting couch the same color as the wine and declaim old fairy tales like Snow White and Rose Red in which a tame bear is really a bewitched prince or The Golden Bird in which a talking fox is actually a man. Yes, Dogman had a clear sense of identity. In short, Dogman knew who he was. In his early teens, he had briefly thought himself a real wolf, which led him to attack several squirrels and the neighbor’s imported Tokinese (a small, walnut colored cat named Wong Mau) and eat them raw in the woods behind his house. But it was only a phase and had passed as quickly as Paul’s own somewhat bellicose interest in Boston Thrash or his Mom’s fleeting passion for Franklin Mint commemorative plates and wok cooking.
Dogman was home-schooled by a retired blacksmith named Serge, who was very old and maybe a wizard. He taught Dogman about shapeshifters and skinwalkers and totem magic and zoanthropy. He taught him about Lycaon, the king of Arcadia, who according to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, was turned into to ravenous wolf as retribution for serving the flesh of his own son to Zeus. He taught him about P’an Hu, who in many Chinese legends was a dog headed man that married an emperor’s daughter and founded at least one race. He taught him about the werewolves of Hungary the were-boars of Greece and the were-sharks of Polynesia. Serge loved Dogman and dreamed of also teaching him his ancient trade and passing on his tongs and swaggers and chisels. But Serge’s international lessons had made Dogman long to see the world and when he was just sixteen, Dogman left home and joined his first road show.
Initially, he slept in a crowded trailer with eight other performers, two to a bunk, and had been kept awake many nights by his bedmate, Simon the seal boy, who, though fast asleep himself, unwittingly beat his flat, finny flippers against his naked belly, over and over, with the greasy bonelessness of two slices of pizza. There were other frustrations: The Wild Men of Borneo put empty milk jugs back in the fridge and Chow Po, who had a second head on stalk of red muscle that shot from out his chest, never replaced the cardboard TP tube with a new roll. But Dogman’s star ascended quickly and soon he had a mobile estate all his own. The nicest on the lot. Its corrugated tin walls were fitted with dark, pine paneling and its hard plywood floor was covered with a soft brown shag so thick it reminded him of his own skin. And still he rose. Up. Up. Until he was more famous than any act before him. More famous than Joseph Merrick or Johnny Eck or even General Tom Thumb. It was then that he got the call.
A major studio was remaking The Wolf Man. Would he fly into Los Feliz for a screen test? Private jet? All expenses paid? And so he had. Initially it had been no more than stunt casting. Dogman as Wolfman. But his reading of the scene was so strong, his voice so rich, that everyone got excited about the possibilities. And with this excitement, came an increasing anxiety. Indeed, even the focus puller on the second unit camera crew was apprehensive about the shave. As an army of hair stylists and coiffeurs unzipped scissor wallets and clipper cases and wheeled carryalls filled with pricey badger-hair lather brushes and glycerin-based creams, Dogman waited taut and tense. Ever since prehistoric man first scraped a seashell across his cheek, shaving has been a part of the male experience. Not so with Dogman, but now, today, for the very first time in his life, Dogman allowed the thick wooly fur that covered his face to be cut.
By Jack A. Napes
To read the rest of DogMan, you must visit our website, www.raconteurbooks.com, and purchase volume one of The Raconteur Reader.