Mickey Rooney’s face, accompanied by a faded autograph, adorns the wall of a Harrisonville barbershop. A photocopy of a 1967 check for an $8 haircut, bearing the signature of game show personality Robert Q. Lewis, hangs nearby, taped to a shelf.
These and a few framed news clippings show the arc of Richard Adkins’ hair-cutting career.
Adkins runs his own shop, Haircutters Ltd., on 291 Highway, but after 61 years of clipping and cutting, he plans to hang up his scissors by December. His career has taken him from his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, to London, Los Angeles and eventually Harrisonville.
Initially, Adkins didn’t even want to be a barber. An uncle left him a small inheritance — but only on the condition that he went to barber school.
And he was still in Ohio when he got his first brushes with fame. A summer stock company was in town, and their hotel called Adkins when one of their stars needed a trim. Adkins said he arrived at Rooney’s room to do the haircut and found Rooney completely naked and in the company of two actresses.
“That was quite an experience, but that’s pretty much the kind of life they lived,” Adkins said.
At one point, Adkins considered another profession. He attended a barber show in Wichita, where he met world champion barber Tom Ahmed, who eventually invited Adkins to come to London and train with him. That led to Adkins joining the British team around 1970 to compete at the world championship for hairstyling.
“Men’s hairstyling in those days was a really big deal. I mean, it was really something,” Adkins said.
Even now, Adkins still misses the hairstyles that required products like Vitalis V7 hair tonic. He recently reminisced with a customer about it.
“In television and movies, that’s what we would use. It gives it a lot of shine,” Adkins said.
After that, he headed to Switzerland to train with another barber. When he came back to the United States, he got a job as the regional education director for Redken Laboratories, a job that had him traveling all over the country to teach professionals about haircutting, perms and makeup.
When the travel started to wear on him, he and his wife Peggy settled in Butler, her hometown, and opened a barber shop. Adkins worked there for 15 years before someone offered to buy him out.
That’s when he moved to Harrisonville. He had one shop for four or five years, then moved to his current space at 2905 291 Highway 28 years ago. His wife used to work with him, giving perms.
Adkins likes to reminisce about some of the famous folks whose hair he’s cut. Besides Lewis and Rooney, there was comedian Totie Fields, actor Gig Young, actress Joey Heatherton and actor Gene Barry.
Some of these stars he encountered in Youngstown while they did summer stock. Others, he met in London — in a rather unconventional haircut setting.
“I cut hair in London a couple of times for people in the back of their limousines. We would be on the way to a show, or they had to get to the airport,” he said.
Adkins wasn’t too bothered about trying to cut hair in a moving vehicle.
“Most of my customers, they don’t sit still anyhow, so there’s not much of a difference,” he said.
Hair-cutting isn’t the only way he passes the time. Adkins also displays his own woodcarvings and paintings in his shop. In the past, he’s also trained and shown horses and dogs.
And when he retires?
“I got seven grandchildren. I don’t plan on doing anything. I’ll just sit here like old people do.”