The Time John Travolta's Fake Hair Ruined a Magazine Photo Shoot

In his new book The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane, former magazine editor Randall Lane describes how Travolta's assistants freely admitted their employer's hair was fake when they demanded Lane's magazine redo a cover shoot.

Lane's harrowing tale begins when aviation magazine Private Air sends the star images for final approval.

A few days later, we heard back from Travolta's assistant. Actually, he seemed to have about a dozen whom for storytelling purposes I'll amalgamate into one named Horshack.

"J.T. would like to see how the cover looks, professionally printed," Horshack told us.

The Time John Travolta's Fake Hair Ruined a Magazine Photo Shoot

So we took a couple of the images, and used the same expensive production process used for real covers. So which ones did he like best?

"None of them," said Horshack.

Spanier fumed. We had chosen the flawless shots, and the head spent hours digitally smoothing out the wrinkles and crow's-feet endemic even in well-preserved fifty-three-year-old actors.

So we instead sent him every photo from the shoot, good, bad, and ugly–more than one hundred in all. Even if he liked only a dozen, we'd have plenty of choices.

"J.T. is not happy," responded Horshack a few days later. "He doesn't like any of them."

"None of one hundred shots? What could possibly be the problem?"

Horshack paused. And sighed. "It's his hair."

Begrudgingly, Horshack let me in on an open Hollywood secret: the man who sported maybe the most iconic male head of hair in Hollywood history, form his disco helmet in Saturday Night Fever to the lubricated ‘do in Grease was bald. Or balding. It's hard to know when someone has the best fake mane money can buy.

"Would ya just watch the hair," Tony Manero had protested in Saturday Night Fever, after his father smacked his head. "Ya know, I work on my hair a long time." Life was now imitating art.

He was changing our deal. Cover approval didn't mean a blanket veto. There had been no fake-hair-clause. Horshack, anticipating the impasse, offered a compromise: a reshoot in front of Travolta's planes in the run-drive-way of his house at Jumbolair. Peace reigned. Until another hairball cropped up: Travolta now insisted on bringing in his handpicked hairstylist. From Lost Angeles. First-class.

This meant an $8000 ticket, at our expense, plus a thousand or so for his day fee, plus other costs, including sending Spanier and his team down to Florida. All in all it came out to a $15,000 hairdo do-over, more than our entire editorial budget to produce the magazine. We offered to send up the best hair guy in Miami. No, said Horshack, it had to be the L.A. hair magician. We offered to fly him in coach. No, said Horshack, the hair magician only flies first-class. Or private.

There was no way I was authorizing that much money for a hair-dresser's extra legroom. So Horshack came up with one last compromise. Travolta had just finished a plane-related advertising shoot for Breitling, a watch company that advertised with us and had a major aviator line. Would we be willing to use one of the outtakes?

It was an economical solution. But an awful one, on principle. We always controlled our own photography. Otherwise, there was no way to know how it would be used going forward. It was core to our brand. "Not an issue," said Horshack. "We'll make sure that those images never get used anywhere else." What choice did we have? We had promised the entire media and aviation communities a big bang with the first issue, and Travolta was it. We had to make it work.

A few weeks later, as I was looking at a mock-up of a soon-to-print issue of Private Air, I saw an ad for Breitling. The photo caused me to double-take. It was "our" cover shoot. In our own magazine. Transformed into a watch ad.

A deal gone bad. It was an omen of things to come.

Randall Lane is editor-at-large at The Daily Beast and the former editor and co-founder of Trader Monthly, Private Air, and other magazines. Photo of Travolta via Getty Images.