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A Tale of Two Jays: Sebring, Gatsby & the American Nightmare
|Tom Krummer A.K.A. Jay Sebring|
"The truth was that Jay Gatsby… sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God—a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that—and he must be about His Father's business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
If we can hang out in English Lit 101 for a second—and why not—Jay Sebring (1933 – 1969) could only have happened in America. He was a stock character, right from the Smith-Corona of F. Scott Fitzgerald (his good friends just called him ‘F’), the man whose mind has left us with The Jazz Age, and its greatest poster boy, Jay Gatsby.
The U.S.A. No other country celebrates self-propagation, creativity and perseverance with such splendiferous rewards. And no other country is so agile at commercializing extreme violence. It’s a strange brew causing Messrs. Jekyll and Hyde to seamlessly mind-meld.
Like fictional Gatsby (born ‘James Gatz’ on a farm in North Dakota) with whom he shares an unsettling number of traits, Jay Sebring surely invented himself under the Beach Boy sun of optimism and good vibrations.
First he was Thomas J. Krummer, an Alabama-born Korean War vet. During his service in the Navy, he was found to possess tonsorial acumen.
After four years of buzz cuts, he split for L.A., epicenter of reinvention. It was there that the middle initial ‘J’ of his name became the hip ‘Jay’ and the bummer ‘Krummer’ was replaced by the name of a swingin’ Florida raceway (www.sebringraceway.com).
In Los Angeles, he was a big hit as a ‘hairstylist for men’, cropping the mops of such celebs as Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Kirk Douglas, and Jim Morrison. In fact, Sebring virtually invented ‘the casual look’, a much-touted fashion of the mid-to-late 60s swingers.
Jay Gatsby was a successful bootlegger and became know for his fabulous, debauched parties. In fact, his parties we so dancing-naked-in-the-fountain-debauched that even today one feels a heavy heart that such gigs have followed the Dodo.
Sebring met the actress Sharon Tate at the Whisky a Go Go in October 1964. He was nothing if not a man of action, and within a year had dumped his wife, got a divorce, and became engaged to the beautiful Tate.
|Tate and Sebring: Just before the end|
Then Tate went to London to shoot Roman Polanski’s film ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’. It didn’t take long for her to take up with Polanski. Sebring was wonderfully cordial about the whole thing—jealousy is for losers—and made a fast new friend in Polanski.
An aggressive entrepreneur, business boomed for Sebring, establishing salons in West Hollywood, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas. He also nabbed acting roles, including a cameo in a ‘Batman’ where he played the part of Mr. Oceanbring, a character based on himself. The hair care business is still going to this day: checkout Sebring International and watch a video of Jay explaining his theory of the Big Snip.
On August 8, 1969, Sebring was slaughtered in Polanski’s home, along with Tate and two others, by friends of Charles Manson. Jay was thirty-five.
“[Sebring] was short, about five feet six, and was lying on his right side, his hands bunched up near his head as if still warding off blows. His clothing--blue shirt, white pants with black vertical stripes, wide modish belt, black boots--was blood-drenched.”
- Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi
Gatsby was shot in his pool, a willing victim of mistaken identity. Ostensibly, he took a bullet for the woman he loved—but wise guys know that the Gatz saw his jig was up, and with exploding hubris, made the best of it.
So take from the Tale of the Two Jays what you will. Much has been written about the American Dream/Nightmare—a troubled vision that alternately has to do with freedom, wealth, sex, death, or combinations hereof. Certainly Sebring’s story shows us the fragility of success—the terrible randomness of wealth and life. Gatsby’s demise (like today’s sub-prime maestros) warns us that what we term ‘the moneyed class’ is in a constant death struggle with Darwin: you can’t always buy your way out of extinction.
Conclusion? The 1920s was a lot like the 1960s, but without acid, guitars, and possibly Peter Fonda.