As he sits quietly to allow his barber to do his thing, Neil Armstrong has no particular cause for concern. The world-famous astronaut has been coming to this very establishment for years now, and he’s never had any issues with his hairdos. In reality, though, there’s a big problem – and when Armstrong finds out about it, he’ll be absolutely horrified.
It was on July 20, 1969, that Neil Armstrong’s name was permanently etched into the history of humankind. That was, of course, the day he became the first person to grace the surface of the Moon. Armstrong had instantly become a global celebrity, yet he later seemed to consider his fame as a hindrance.
Armstrong and his fellow Apollo 11 crew members Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were touted as the personifications of American excellence. They were celebrated as idols throughout the United States, three men who had struck the Soviet Union a mighty blow in the “Space Race.” But despite all this adoration, Armstrong was uneasy in the limelight.
It would’ve been so straightforward for Armstrong to capitalize on his fame to his own advantage. He could conceivably have become a politician, for example, or he might have moved into the world of television. But the man just didn’t want all that attention to be focused on himself.
Instead, Armstrong decided to shun the limelight, taking up an educational position at the University of Cincinnati in 1971. That same year he purchased a farm for himself in the Ohio city of Lebanon, a place where he’d quietly spend the latter decades of his life. It was in 2012, then, that Armstrong passed away at the age of 82.
Armstrong had attempted to lead a regular life in the wake of his Moon landing. But, of course, there was no denying his elevated status within American society, and some people just couldn’t help themselves when they were around him. His regular barber Marx Sizemore, for one, took advantage of his access to Armstrong. And when the astronaut found out, there was trouble.
Perhaps fame sat so uneasily with Armstrong because it hadn’t seemed a likely outcome when he was growing up. As a child living in the Ohio countryside, Armstrong had seemed most interested in the concept of flying. He wanted to understand the processes that made it achievable, and by the time he was 16 he’d already earned a pilot’s license.
Within the next five years, Armstrong was piloting aircraft in the Korean War. Then, having made it through this conflict, he took up a role testing new military aircraft over the Mojave desert in California. These aircraft were sophisticated, representing something of a step towards the flying technologies that would define the coming space age.
It was during this period that Armstrong’s nerves of steel became apparent. During one particular flight in 1962 the pilot misjudged his landing, overshooting the runway while traveling many times faster than the speed of sound. But while hurtling towards the ground, Armstrong calmly managed to rectify his error. Somehow he turned safely and despite having no more power he landed his craft safely, mere moments from disaster.
Four years after this incident, Armstrong had graduated to space flight. His first foray beyond the Earth was aboard the Gemini 8 spacecraft, but the mission wasn’t exactly smooth. At one stage, the craft threatened to spin totally out of control. Armstrong was close to losing consciousness, but he still managed to get on top of the situation. Had he not acted as he did, he and his co-pilot would likely have been killed.
Armstrong was to experience another brush with disaster in 1968. To prepare for his journey to the Moon, he was training aboard a craft nicknamed the “Flying Bedstead.” At one stage, this vehicle lost control and plummeted towards the ground. Right before the impact, Armstrong ejected, yet again managing to cheat death. And according to reports of the incident, he didn’t seem at all flustered by this experience.
All in all, then, many of Armstrong’s experiences as a pilot and astronaut were really quite harrowing. But he’d undoubtedly proven himself to be capable of handling these remarkably stressful situations. So, it was he who was selected to command Apollo 11, ultimately meaning that he’d step onto the Moon before any other person.
Armstrong himself later claimed that the decision leading to him being the first to walk along the Moon was incidental. Speaking to CBS in 2005, he argued, “I wasn’t chosen to be first. I was just chosen to command that flight. Circumstance put me in that particular role. That wasn’t planned by anyone.”
In any case, the experience undoubtedly brought Armstrong an incredible level of fame. As he recalled to his biographer James Hansen, “Friends and colleagues all of a sudden looked at us [the Apollo 11 crew], treated us slightly differently than they had months or years before when we were working together. I never quite understood that.”
Armstrong had become a celebrity, yet despite this he just wanted to pursue a quiet existence. So, a couple of years after the Apollo 11 mission, the astronaut started teaching at the University of Cincinnati. This decision was initially met with interest from media outlets, but the hype eventually died down.
It’s fair to say that Armstrong’s career after he left NASA was quite understated. The man didn’t wish to be at the center of the public’s attention, so he rarely spoke with the press. He kept his head down, but at the same time it’s not like he withdrew from society totally.
In 2009 one of Armstrong’s friends spoke to British newspaper The Independent about the former astronaut’s general temperament. According to John Swez, Armstrong handled his celebrity with care, never becoming overwhelmed or altered because of it. Swez said, “Fame never turned his head; he’s a true professional… He’s certainly not reclusive.”
Swez went on, “[Armstrong has] got a good sense of humor. The first time I chatted with him at length, he was funny and outgoing. He’s probably the most intelligent man I’ve ever talked to. Yes, he’s careful in what he says, but I think it comes from that level of intelligence. He wants to get it right.”
It seems that Armstrong wasn’t keen on showing off about his experiences. He never penned an autobiography, though he did permit Hansen to write an account of his life. Yet even this was a measured affair. The book was long and studious, suggesting that it wasn’t exactly put together with a mainstream audience in mind.
Having said all this, though, there’s no denying that Armstrong did take advantage of his fame on some occasions. He left the University of Cincinnati in 1979, after which he started sitting on the boards of some corporations. And that very year, he showed up in a commercial for Chrysler.
Generally speaking, though, Armstrong tried to keep under the radar. He especially didn’t like to be singled out for the Apollo 11 mission, given the vast number of people who’d been involved in its success. Armstrong apparently didn’t consider his own contributions to the operation to be any more significant than anyone else’s.
Armstrong’s restraint when it came to fame could also apparently be seen in his general manner. Rebecca Macwhinney is the manager of a museum dedicated to Armstrong, and in 2009 she told The Independent about the times she’d met the man himself. She said, “The first occasions I spoke to him, he would take his time before responding. But when he answered it was in a very articulate fashion, with perfectly formed sentences. What comes across is that he’s a very intelligent man.”
Of course, Armstrong didn’t always speak flawlessly. And it just so happens that one of his rare lapses in articulation went down in history as one of the most well-known expressions of all time. As he walked across the Moon for the first time, Armstrong had intended to say, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Somehow, though, Armstrong managed to lose the “a” from this influential sentence. Perhaps the pressure of the entire world listening to him led to his nerve finally faltering a bit? But regardless of what happened, the phrase still went down in history and remains known far and wide today.
Unsurprisingly, there have been those who’ve sought to take advantage of this historic remark. The Hallmark Cards company, for example, once reproduced it in one of its products, even though it hadn’t been authorized to do so. When Armstrong found out, he successfully sued the company, donating the resulting funds to Indiana’s Purdue University.
This episode involving Hallmark Cards demonstrates the sheer lengths that Armstrong would go to if he was crossed. Given that, it was probably unwise for the astronaut’s barber to betray his trust in the way that he did. But it seems that greed ultimately got the better of this person.
The man in question was Marx Sizemore, the proprietor of Marx’s Barber Shop in Lebanon, OH. Armstrong used to visit this place often, showing up every month to get his do tidied up. But he wasn’t to know that during these visits his barber was up to something arguably quite exploitative.
After he’d finished up with Armstrong’s haircut, Sizemore would then collect the clippings that had fallen to the ground. On the surface, of course, there’s nothing particularly wrong or unusual about that. It’s only right, after all, that a barber should clean up after a client has left their establishment.
But the issue arose because of what Sizemore did with these clippings. Creepily, he didn’t dispose of them as he should have. Instead, he kept Armstrong’s hair, preparing to sell it for a hefty price. And the crazy thing is that there really is a market for such a weird product.
A man by the name of John Reznikoff apparently reached out to Sizemore, hoping to get his hands on Armstrong’s hair. Speaking to The Guardian newspaper in 2005, the barber claimed that he’d initially resisted Reznikoff’s offer. But this man then came back with another figure, one that couldn’t be ignored.
Sizemore remembered, “At first I told [Reznikoff] no, I wasn’t interested. He called me back; then he contacted me by mail.” From here, it was clear that Reznikoff was now prepared to pay a huge sum of money for the hair. Amazingly, he was willing to part with $3,000 to get his prize.
You’d presume that Reznikoff was the biggest fan of Neil Armstrong to be willing to pay that much money for his hair. In reality, though, the situation was a little more complex than that. At the time, Reznikoff held the bizarre distinction of owning the world’s biggest celebrity hair collection.
Armstrong eventually learned of what had happened, with Sizemore apparently being open about what he’d done. Appalled by the situation, Armstrong reportedly ordered his barber to get his hair back. Reznikoff, however, was unwilling to surrender the locks, so the astronaut had to consider more serious measures to resolve matters.
Sizemore related to The Guardian exactly what had happened after Armstrong had become involved. The barber remembered, “I called the person I sold it to and told him. He was not interested in giving it back. I called Neil back and told him that. Then I got this letter from his lawyer.”
The letter in question asserted that Sizemore had broken the law by selling Armstrong’s hair. You see, in Ohio there are measures in place that seek to uphold the rights of celebrities. Sizemore had crossed a line, and if he didn’t either get the hair back or donate the money he’d received for it, there’d be trouble.
The problem, though, was that Reznikoff had absolutely no intention of giving up the hair. As NBC News reported, he responded to the legal threats by saying, “I bought it for my collection, and I plan to keep it.” He did, however, offer to donate $3,000 to charity. This, it seems, helped put the matter to rest.
Reznikoff claimed that he really was a big fan of Neil Armstrong. Speaking to NBC, he reflected on that day in 1969 when he took his first steps on the Moon. As he put it, “Neil Armstrong has always been one of my heroes.” His actions, though, seem like an odd way to treat one’s own hero.
Strangely, there’s a website today that appears to be selling Armstrong’s hair. It’s not entirely clear if this lock is the same one which Reznikoff had obtained. But it does appear to have come from Marx’s Barber Shop, if we can believe a written statement that accompanies the product.
This statement was allegedly written by Sizemore. It reads, “This is to inform you that I have been the barber of record of Neil Armstrong since October 1999. I generally cut his hair once a month. This is the Neil Armstrong who was an astronaut for NASA and the first man to walk on the Moon. I do attest that the hair clippings submitted to you are his hairs that I cut from his head.”
The whole affair is a weird and perhaps almost sinister illustration of the dark side of fame and prestige. Armstrong had wanted a simple life after his trip to the Moon, yet some people were hindrances to this endeavor. Still, though, the revered astronaut generally managed to maintain a life of restraint and modesty until the end.