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waxhead rocket

Waxen-Rocket Richard was 15 pounds lighter than the real article, and he didn’t have enough hair.

That’s what the flesh-and-blood Richard noticed when he showed up, above, in March of 1965 to visit his doppelgänger at Montreal’s new Ville Marie Wax Museum a month before it opened.

“It scares me a little,” said the Rocket and, well, yes. I mean, the man’s head was working independent from its facsimile body — they hadn’t attached the two yet — plus Richard found that the birthmark on his actual chin had migrated on his double to the cheek.

Fortunately, artists named Winifred Mills and Margaret Brody were on hand in Montreal to correct the errors. They worked for Madame Tussauds in London, the famous waxworks, which had decided that the time had come to open up a franchise in Montreal. Richard’s display commemorated the occasion of his 500th NHL goal, scored on Chicago’s Glenn Hall on October 19th, 1957. Others featured Abraham Lincoln (his assassination), Jesus (the Last Supper), Joan of Arc (at the stake), and Brigitte Bardot (taking a shower).

Richard was in a good mood. He noticed that many of the famous women, Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor as well as Bardot and Arc, had yet to be dressed. “They’d be embarrassed,” he said. Looking himself in the eye, he added, “I lost my head a few times in the NHL. Maybe I could have used this one for a spare.”

It had been crafted in England, from photographs. In Montreal, Mses. Mills and Brody took the opportunity of meeting the real-Rocket to add more hair to the dummy, and to relocate the birthmark chinward. Local newspapermen noted that in wax, the Rocket maintained his NHL playing weight, 185 pounds, rather than 200 he was currently carrying as a former NHLer. The uniform he’d be wearing in the museum, equipment and skates, too, were authentic enough: the man himself had donated the garb he’d been wearing the year he’d retired from the Canadiens in 1960.

Is it worth adding what people stole once the wax museum opened? I’m not sure; probably not. But just in case: Christ’s sandals often went missing, along with Lee Harvey Oswald’s handcuffs (he was in there, too) and (regularly) the towel that Bardot was wearing in the shower.

And in 1968, Bardot herself disappeared. Curator Blake Lilly was stunned; towels were one thing, but “to lose the whole thing,” he said, “is unbelievable.” He called the police and posted a $100 reward leading to Bardot’s return.

“The thing’s worth at least $2,000,” Lilly told Montreal’s Gazette, “if you consider shipping costs from England and customs duties.”

The culprits were soon revealed: students from the University of Montreal had, it turned out, kidnapped her. It was carnival time in Montreal, and students were out competitively swiping stuff for pranks. That same day they also absconded with one of the Canadian Army’s armoured cars; a cow named Judy LaVache; and the Lieutenant-Governor’s throne from Quebec’s Legislative Assembly.

Just like this waxy reproduction, Richard scored his 500th NHL goal on Glenn Hall on October 19, 1957.

Just like this: Montreal’s waxy reproduction of Rocket Richard scoring his 500th NHL goal on Glenn Hall on October 19, 1957.

(Top photo: David Bier)

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Just like this, Richard scored his 500th NHL goal on Glenn Hall on October 19, 1957.

There are reasons why Madame Tussauds makes wax figures of some famous former residents of Stratford, Ontario (Justin Bieber) and not others (Howie Morenz), and as soon as I find out what they are, I’ll post them here. In the meantime, Alex Ovechkin is the latest hockey player to have been remade in a creepily lifelike way at Tussauds’ Washington branch where, for just about a month now, he’s been crouched nearby Captain Jack Sparrow, all 44 U.S. presidents, Rihanna, and Rosa Parks. (Justin Bieber is in London.)

During the French Revolution, Madame Tussaud got her start as a waxworker making death-masks of executed aristocrats. That would seem to call out for some kind of witticism regarding Bruce Boudreau, who was fired Monday morning as coach of the Capitals, and if one occurs, I’ll get that up, too. But: Ovechkin. If, as we’re told, exhibitions of wax figures were once a kind of itinerant newscast, bringing members of the public face-to-face with the newsmakers of the day, today they’re all about … allowing us to take pictures with celebrity doppelgangers on our iPhones to amuse and possibly fool our friends?

Alex Ovechkin (left, or right) meets his match on October 24, 2011 at Madame Tussauds in Washington, D.C.

This is not the place to judge which Ovechkin, real or moulded, looks the more authentic. The debate about just why waxen Wayne Gretzky — he’s at Tussauds New York, if you’re in the area — looks so poorly is probably best set aside for another day, and blog. What does need to be said is that despite what you may have heard, Ovechkin isn’t the only NHLer other than Gretzky to have been rendered in beeswax: Maurice Richard and Glenn Hall were frozen in immortal awkwardness long before Ovechkin was even born.

The scene they’re commemorating — any guesses? You’re excused if you bet on the night in 1961 that Hall fell over and the Rocket tried and failed to help him back to his skates. Hall does look so seriously stricken that it’s hard to accept that he hasn’t been felled by something more deadly than a tricky deke — an assassin’s bullet, or a poisoned dart.

In fact, what we’re supposed to be seeing here is Richard in the act of scoring his 500th career goal, which he did on the night of October 19, 1957. Which doesn’t really explain why he looks like a man just about to take his first tottering steps on skates.

An ailing Wayne Gretzky at Madame Tussauds, New York City.

Montreal, if you didn’t know, has hosted a series of wax museums in its time, going to back to 1894, and they’ve been filled with Champlains and Montcalms, Joans of Arc and René Lévesques. Richard and Hall were made by Josephine Tussaud, a descendant of the original Madame, for her Musée de Cire de Ville Marie, which once occupied a corner of Ste. Catherine West and Drummond. Quebec City’s Musée de la Civilisation is supposed to have acquired much of the province’s wax population as the museums closed down over the years. The hockey players among them? It would be good to know whether they’ve survived. Stand by; we’ll see.

 

(Ovechkin image by Josh Marks, http://sportsfanlive.com/hockeystop; Gretzky image by Wilhelm Y)