famous faux: commemorating rocket richard’s 500

As It Happened: On the ice in 1957, Maurice Richard scored his 500th NHL goal with a slapshot, from 15 feet out, but by the time he and Chicago goaltender Glenn Hall were immortalized in wax in 1965, the Rocket had migrated into Hall’s crease.

The building was in a bedlam the moment the red light flashed. The crowd stood up, clapping hands and roaring acclaim. Programs were showered don on the ice. The Rocket’s teammates on the bench dropped sticks and gloves and stood up an applauded. The organ played “Il A Gagne Ses Epaulettes.” The Rocket himself leaped high in the air and landed on Jean Béliveau, who had fed him the pass that set up the goal.

* Dink Carroll, The Gazette, October 21, 1957

It was on a Saturday of this date in 1957 that Maurice Richard became the first player in NHL history to score 500 goals. The Chicago Black Hawks were in at the Montreal Forum that night, and the rink was packed with 14, 405 fans, as the biggest — and most expectant — crowd of the young season awaited the Rocket’s record-breaking goal.

Fifteen minutes and 52 seconds into the first period was when Dickie Moore passed to Béliveau’s at the side of the Chicago net and he found Richard in the slot, about 15 feet out. The Rocket beat Chicago goaltender Glenn Hall with a slapshot; Carroll said it whizzed. Once the bedlam subsided, Montreal went on to beat Chicago 3-1.

“That mark of 500 threatens to stand up as long as the Babe’s record of 60 home runs in a single season,” Carroll would venture in his Gazettedispatch. Ruth’s monument was, by then, 30 years old, and had another four years to run before Roger Maris got around to hitting his 61. Carroll was just a little off: Gordie Howe scored his 500th NHL in March of 1962,  just over six months after Maris did his record-breaking deed.

Still, Richard was first, and for that — and because he was the Rocket, and this was Montreal — one of his rewards was to be immortalized in wax. This was later, 1965, when Tussaud’s Ville Marie Wax Museum opened at the downtown corner of Ste. Catherine West and Drummond, 12 blocks or so from the Forum. Glenn Hall was rewarded, too, as a supporting actor, though for him it may have felt more like penance, all the more so if he ever saw the display, above, as it would later appear to paying customers.

Richard himself dropped by the Museum before it opened to check himself out. He’d donated the uniform and skates his doppelganger; I don’t know where Hall’s gear came from. Fashioned in London from photographs by Josephine Tussaud, a descendant of the original Madame, waxy Richard got some final adjustments before meeting the public. Joining him and Hall  in the museum were scenes featuring an array of the faux and famous, including  Abraham Lincoln (at his assassination), Jesus (partaking of the Last Supper), Joan of Arc (at the stake), and Brigitte Bardot (just out of the shower).

Model Citizen: Another, modern-day waxen Richard, this one from the Musée Grévin Montréal, in the Centre Eaton in the city’s downtown, wherein an ersatz Guy Lafleur, Mario Lemieux, and Sidney Crosby keep company with Jacques Cartier, Céline Dion, and David Bowie.

waxworked

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 Brooks 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 Brooks 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.

(Top image: David Bier)