When I Had a Beard

Todd at nineteen on Santa Cruz beach

In 1968, at the beginning of my second (and last) year of college at UC Santa Cruz, I grew a beard and kept that beard for two years. Yet for many years after I shaved off the beard, several people who had seen me multiple times since then would greet me with, “Hey, you shaved off your beard.” Apparently Todd with a beard made a deep impression on some people.

I played on the university basketball team my last year of college. Our team was composed of students and faculty and we played in a local city league. The league included a team from a Bible college as well as teams sponsored by Sylvania, lumber companies, and a commercial mushroom factory. During a game in front of a boisterous crowd, I made a long shot while falling out of bounds, and someone in the stands shouted, “Way to go Ulysses!” Had to be the beard.

Todd with Robert Smith on the dunes at Pescadero 1969 (photo by Dick Mead)

This is my favorite picture of me with a beard. I was nineteen. My companion is the inestimable Robert Smith and we are drinking wine and eating cheese and French bread bought at the San Gregorio general store. Along with our pal Dick Mead, who took this iconic photo, and somebody with a car, we had driven up from Santa Cruz for a day of Frisbee and beach walking and a picnic on the dunes at Pescadero Beach. Happily, Robert and Dick and I are still pals fifty-two years after that glorious bacchanal.

With my impressive beard, I could buy alcohol without being asked for proof I was old enough to legally buy liquor, which I was not. Hence, I was often asked by guys in my dorm to buy booze for them.

Near the end of my college days, two fledgling filmmakers put me in their little movies, no doubt because of my beard.

When I quit college, I adventured around America and Canada in a school-bus-yellow GMC panel truck with the aforementioned Dick Mead. Hard to believe now, but beards were unusual in much of America in the late 1960s, and in some places, especially in the South, people were clearly offended by my beard and my not-very-long long hair, while in other places…

Dick and I were walking in New York City on a balmy summer evening. Not really knowing where we were or where we were going, we wandered into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood full of people sitting on stoops and stairways, and gangs of kids playing in the street. As we passed a group of men gathered in front of an old apartment building, two of the men approached us and one of them asked me, “Rabbi? Would you help us settle an argument?”

“I’m not a rabbi,” I replied, surprised by his request.

“Not yet,” said the other man. “But you’re studying, yes?”

Some months later when I was getting ready to travel to Mexico and Central America, I was advised my beard might be problematic south of the border, so I shaved off my beard, kept a mustache for a couple years, and never grew a beard again.

Todd and his cottage in Costa Rica 1970

Now I shave every three or four days, and when newly shaven I always appear (to myself) to be much younger. How much younger? A good year.


Moving and Changing a 35-second movie by Todd