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Tuesday, October 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Ig Nobel fun for comb-over heir

By Rich McKay
The Orlando Sentinel

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Ig Nobel Prizes
U.S. Patent No. 4,022,227

ORLANDO, Fla. — Perched on a white cloud somewhere in the great beyond, Frank Jackson Smith, a balding and wisecracking failed inventor, must be laughing at himself.

A patented comb-over hairstyle of his that never earned a penny during his lifetime finally got recognized — albeit with a wink and a jab rather than laurels and cash.

Smith's son and co-inventor, Donald Jackson Smith of Orlando, Fla., says, his "Pappy," once a Virginia hobo who rode the rails during the Great Depression, would have laughed "until his eyes leaked."

The father-and-son team received an Ig Nobel prize, awarded for dubious achievements in science, Sept. 30 at Harvard University. Other winners delved into such useful topics as whether herrings communicate through flatulence, and whether the five-second rule for eating dropped food is valid.

The invention came about in 1977 as all Smith father-and-son ideas did: over a jug of homemade wine sipped at the supper table.

"He was pretty bald, so I was poking at him some," said Donald Smith, 66, a retired Orlando police officer with plenty of hair. "I suggested he let it grow long on all the sides and back, and then pile it all on."

From that remark, Frank Smith cooked up a method for partially bald men like himself to divide their remaining hair into three sections, grow it to different lengths and bring it all together on top like a thatched roof.

"He went to a lawyer, and if it don't beat all he got a ... patent," the son said.

"Well, here it is," he said, pulling out the yellowing U.S. Patent No. 4,022,227 issued in May 1977 to both Frank and Donald Smith. "It was never worth a ... cent for the paper he wrote it on."

But not listed in the patent was Frank Smith's plan to then create a spray-on hair tonic for men that would hold it all in place.
"He wanted to write an ad in a tabloid magazine and say it was patented, so people would look at it," Donald Smith said. "But he never did."

The elder Smith worked on the hairspray off and on for years, practicing on his own balding head, except for times his wife got mad and hid his hair elixir.

"He folded his hair this way and that and got it looking pretty good," his son said. Frank Smith died in 1985 at age 74.

"I like the idea of my father getting some recognition after all this time," Donald Smith said.

The Smiths' fame won't end in a few newspaper articles. The comb-over patent is featured in the upcoming "Combover: The Movie." It is a humorous 84-minute documentary by Colorado director Chris Marino, being submitted to the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the hallmark for independent films.

Marino and his team crisscrossed the country in search of the best and worst comb-overs. Along with an interview of Donald Smith, the film includes a forensic breakdown of the infamous comb-over worn by business mogul Donald Trump.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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