“Shampoo” and Other Inspirations Found on St. Mark’s Place
Shampoo, the iconic movie satire, is set on Election Day 1968, the day Richard Nixon was first elected President of the United States, and was released in 1975, soon after the Watergate scandal had reached its conclusion. The political atmosphere provides a source of dramatic irony, since the audience, but not the characters, are aware of the direction the Nixon presidency would eventually take. However, the main theme of the film is not presidential politics, but sexual politics; it is renowned for its sharp satire of late-1960s sexual and social mores.
Paul McGregor, an East Village icon himself who is said to have invented “the Shag” haircut is widely thought to have been the inspiration for Warren Beatty’s character in Shampoo.
Paul was certainly not always a hairdresser. First a longshoreman, then a “sandhog,” and a truck driver, he arrived at St. Marks Place in 1965. He reportedly remarked that St. Marks Place was “where people came for ideas.” He reinvented himself once again and opened Paul McGregor’s Haircutter at 15 St. Marks Place. Within a few years he was about the hottest haircutter anywhere. After cutting Jane Fonda’s hair into the shape we now know so well, it’s said that she nearly fainted. But the world loved it and the celebrities started to flow through the doors. Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Faye Dunaway, and so many others came to Paul to get the hippest cut.
McGregor eventually grew tired of the hair business and in the late 1970’s he converted his St. Marks Place shop (one of ten he built around the country) into the world’s smallest roller disco. It remained a disco for about two years before becoming a bar; McGregor’s Garage was successful enough, but the place became much more famous as BoyBar, where gender-bending icons like Sweetie, Lady Bunny, RuPaul, Glamamore, Princess Diandra, Codie Ravioli, Connie Girl, Perfidia, Lulu and Miss Guy all got their start.
According to a local neighbor, “in the 1990s Mayor Giuliani tried to shut down nightclubs by enforcing the old New York City cabaret laws that are still in effect now. In other words, it was against the law to dance without a cabaret license—and you could not get a cabaret license without paying a prohibitively high cost. McGregor devised a scheme that was brilliant in its simplicity and worked for many years. The dance floor and stage were on the first floor of Boy Bar, but to enter the club you had to walk upstairs to the second floor and then come back down. If there was a raid by the police or fire department, the doorman hit a secret switch that alerted the DJ booth. This “kill switch” would automatically stop the dance music and switch over to a cassette tape of lounge music. I would kill the disco lights and bring up lounge lighting. In other words, by the time the police got down the stairs, the dancing had totally stopped and the crowd was just milling about under signs that read “No Dancing,” listening to Laura Nyro. It was brilliant.”
The above photograph of Paul McGregor’s Haircutters in its heyday is from our “Carol Teller’s Changing New York” collection on our historic image archive, which is chock full of great images of images of people and places long gone and still around in our neighborhoods over the last fifty years. View part I of that collection here, part II here, and part III here.