FOR A FULL HEAD OF HAIR
ADD THESE INGREDIENTS: Two guys with a cure for baldness; greed, vanity testosterone; money, money and more money; the US legal system, the postal service and an army of lawyers, some of them bald.
BY MARK STUART GILL
Even in the bizarre annals of US District Court in San Francisco, the two-day hearing of US Postal Service vs. Bob Murphy stands as a landmark.
Murphy, an ex-Ramada Inn manager with insomniac circles under his eyes, had been marketing a hair growth potion to some 15,000 customers. In 1981, US Postal attorneys accused him of using false representation through the mails to sell his product, called New Generation.
Judge Quentin Grant's courtroom was a circus. An army of New Generation users showed up. The audience cheered when Murphy took the stand. "I never wanted to make a dime off this," said Murphy, "I just started to grow hair." The army hooted and booed when the prosecution's expert witness, a Miami dermatologist, testified. The dermatologist claimed there was no scientific reason to believe that Murphy's product would grow hair or stop progressive male-pattern baldness.
"Are these expensive fellas the reason the price of stamps keeps going up?", someone in the gallery shouted at the 5 Postal Service attorneys.
During the court recesses, newspaper photographers snapped close-up pictures of the New Generation users' scalps. A total of 107 people wanted to testify for Bob Murphy. But Judge Grant let the defense call only 18 witnesses. One of the more moving was a Sacramento radio personality named Tony Russell who recounted under oath: "The experience of using New Generation has been like having sex and winning the Congressional Medal of Honor at the same time."
Despite hours of similar loving testimony and the fact that the Postal Service failed to produce any customers who had actual complaints about the product, Murphy still lost the case.
Hair Loss Bigger Than Madonna
When the cultural history of the late 20th century is recorded, Bob Murphy is certain it won't be about Madonna, political correctness or presidential infidelities. It will be about hair loss.
Think of the millions of thinning generational scalps. Think of the articles, the talk shows, the endless anguish and fretting and mirror checking, the matted doughnuts of loose hairs curled around the bathtub drain. By that time, no hair-loss story will seem more prophetic about the folly of our own vanities than that of Bob Murphy Of California Pacific Research. He's spent the better part of a decade battling over the legal rights to the main ingredients of the tonic, a substance called polysorbate 60 that was proved to grow hair at the University of Helsinki in Finland in the early 1970s.
Murphy has sold nearly 4 million bottles of his tonic worldwide and grossed $200 million. Judging from the thousands of unsolicited testimonial letters, he's attracted a cult of balding men so devoted to his product that no amount of government legal action has been able to diminish his sales.
I flew up to Reno one weekend to spend some time with Bob Murphy. He and a staff of 20 work out of a warren of rundown offices with rec-room paneling. It's surprisingly no-frills, considering that Murphy's empire includes the 413-unit apartment complex behind his offices as well as a shopping center in Napa and office buildings in Reno and Sacramento.