Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Thursday, 16 September 2010 17:07 UK

Hollywood barber's tales of the stars

Dean Martin (L), Sammy Davis junior (C) and Frank Sinatra (R)
The Rat Pack's Dean Martin (L) and Frank Sinatra (R) were regulars at barber shop Gornik & Drucker, Beverly Hills

Open since the 1930s, a barber's shop in Beverly Hills boasts of grooming some of Tinsel Town's greatest personalities, including Frank Sinatra and former president Ronald Reagan. The BBC's Zeb Soanes paid it a visit.

Tucked away in the basement of a smart hotel in Beverly Hills is a piece of living history.

It is a place where the style and elegance of Old Hollywood is embalmed in the heady scents of soap, talc, cologne and shoe-polish.

Barber William Gornik
Barber William Gornik embodies classic Hollywood style

The discreet striped pole is all that indicates you have come to the establishment of Gornik & Drucker - barbers to the stars.

Gornik & Drucker has groomed Hollywood's celebrity elite since the 1930s - Clarke Gable, Tyrone Power, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and even a former President, Ronald Reagan.

Through the dark walnut-panelled reception are relics of the past - hair tonics, razors and brushes are displayed in glazed cabinets.

William Gornik, white-haired and well-preserved in open-neck shirt, cravat, horn-rimmed glasses and sand-coloured slacks, embodies classic Beverly-Hills style.

The only incongruous touch, just noticeable beneath his turn-ups, is a pair of black-leather cowboy boots ornately embellished in gold.

He was finishing a trim on a man of similar style and vintage - clearly a regular.

They offer a manicure... but refer to it as "handshake maintenance", which sounds much more manly

He handed me an auction catalogue to read whilst I waited.

The next day in Las Vegas, many items from the barber shop were to be sold alongside other celebrity memorabilia.

I flicked past some outlandishly gaudy furniture from Michael Jackson's mansion until I reached Gornik's items.

These all centred around his connection to President Reagan - his barber's chair, a signed baseball bat... and even a lock of presidential hair.

Gornik beckoned me over to the chair.

I explained this was to be my first straight-razor shave and I hoped it was not to be my last.

Old-school machismo

He began by covering my face in a searing-hot towel infused with the scent of lemons, which was instantly relaxing.

A younger William Gornik with Ronald Reagan. Photo provided by Shaan Kokin/Julien’s Auctions
A young William Gornik with former President Ronald Reagan

This was replaced with a light muslin cloth over my eyes, leaving my lower face free for the job-in-hand.

Soap was applied with a badger-hair brush and, trying not to get any into my mouth, I asked how the business began.

Its early success was owed to 'Billy' Wilkerson - the colourful and controversial owner of The Hollywood Reporter newspaper, known in the 1930s for its candid and outrageous coverage of the movie business and its personalities.

Wishing to capitalise on the wealth of the studio crowd, Wilkerson decided to open a haberdashery store on Sunset Strip with the novelty of an in-house barber shop led by his own barber, the late Harry Drucker.

Real men never shopped for clothes in those days and Wilkerson believed the lure of a good shave and some sporting talk might persuade them to spend money in the rest of the store.

That old-school machismo and entrepreneurial flair still prevails at Gornik & Druker.

In keeping with the demands of the modern studio executive they offer a manicure whilst you are shaved, but refer to it as "handshake maintenance", which sounds much more manly.

Mine was being maintained by an affable Russian woman, Svetlana, whilst we spoke.

Family history

Harry Drucker was an ardent gambler and it is said he solicited many of his more famous clients at the race-track, including the notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel.

Gangster Bugsy Siegel
Gangster Bugsy Siegel was a customer in the 1940s

Gornik told me how one fateful evening in 1947 Bugsy visited the barber's shop for a shave and a trim - an hour later he was found shot dead - but clean-shaven.

Gornik brought the cut-throat razor to my face and began the shave.

So what was it like to have not just the ear but the throat of a President!?

Gornik explained that he never talks "shop" with his clients - be they politicians, producers, lawyers or even Native American chiefs, he insists, but limits conversation to sports and small-talk.

He recalled how Reagan was a master at putting everyone at ease.

One appointment came the day after Reagan had made one of his famous presidential gaffes.

Whilst absent-mindedly wearing a radio microphone he described the Polish government as, "a bunch of no-good, lousy bums".

Gornik remembers Reagan's opening words to him that next morning: "No racist jokes today, only Irish ones".

Gornik smoothed cocoa-butter over my stubble and went in for a second even closer shave.

Presidential cheque

Reagan was never charged for his appointments but on one occasion insisted on paying.

Ronald Reagan
A cheque signed by Ronald Reagan is displayed proudly

There was one problem. He never carried any cash, so beckoned over one of his bodyguards to borrow the fee.

The guard, somewhat embarrassed, had no cash either, so he called over an aide, and so the farcical chain continued right down to the last of the President's entourage.

In the end Reagan had to post a cheque - but of course it was never cashed - it is framed in pride of place above the Gornik & Drucker reception.

With a deft snip of my nose-hair and a pinch of cologne, I was finished.

I would not need to shave again for days, or so it felt. Smiling might also prove difficult.

In the end President Reagan did manage to find a way to pay for his visits, albeit posthumously, with interest.

That lock of presidential hair fetched over $2,500 at auction.

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