Brother, Can You Spare a Dome? with a Lick and Some Promise, Liesel the Cow Tries to Cure Baldness

updated 06/04/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/04/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Yes, well, you see, the fact is there is this cow named Liesel on a farm near Trier, West Germany, and for about $14 a lick, airfare not included, she runs her tongue over the naked scalps of bald men every Wednesday in order to make their hair grow. That much is clear. It is also clear that Liesel the cow got into this humane pursuit because of Erich Schmitt, the West German hairdresser who owns her. "Hairdressers must remain open to new ideas," declares Schmitt, and he obviously means what he says. Without advertising, Herr Schmitt has acquired eight customers eager to submit to Liesel's ministrations five minutes each week, such is their craving to regain the hairs of yesteryear.

It all began with John Coombs of Salisbury, England. Coombs says he discovered the merits of cow licks—"by accident, certainly not by design"—on his Wiltshire dairy farm last November. He was feeding his favorite Jersey, Primrose, when dust from the feed settled on Coombs' bald head. Observing her master bending to fill the troughs, Primrose couldn't resist lapping at his scalp, and eight weeks later—shazam!—Coombs' wife noticed his hair returning. The good farmer was skeptical, but says now, "My hair is going up like the tide coming in."

Coombs decided to tell his story after he saw a television show on which volunteers had failed to grow hair by using bay rum, bear fat and an herbal concoction made from onion leaves. "My friends said, 'Good heavens, write in and say you can cure baldness,' " Coombs recalls. "So I did. It was like lighting a heap of dynamite." Swarms of journalists descended, compared Coombs' pate with photos taken before Primrose got her tongue on it, and verified his reforestation. Headlines promptly flashed across Europe, where hairdresser Schmitt took note and decided to try the Primrose path himself. So far the results have been sparse. Of eight test cases he assigned to Liesel back in February, only one has grown peach fuzz. Undaunted, the others still show up every Wednesday for their tongue lashings.

Although Coombs has applied for a patent, he concedes that being lapped by a cow can be a rough experience. The older the cow the harsher the tongue, says he, adding, "It feels like a file. My hair's as long as grass and the cow can get her tongue around it and pull it." But Coombs, an honest yeoman who still isn't sure what all the fuss is about, might not be the best spokesman for his process. "I've been bald for over a quarter of a century," he says. "I think baldness is dignified."

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