PROVINCETOWN — Long story short: Dougie Freeman, who since 1982 has cut, colored, and charmed the Outer Cape, who was, he says, once young and gorgeous and 127 pounds and now, at 68, is spray-tanned, arthritic, still known for his legs (“get that in there: fabulous legs”), who at 17 fled Newton for Boston, where he balanced cocktails on a cork tray on his fingertips, which reminds him that waiters used to have such style, such pizzazz — what was the question?
Dougie Freeman, who got his start in beauty from a man with a gold Cadillac (“can’t name him; blame the lawyers”), who as a matter of fact brings up Cadillacs eight times in an 87-minute stretch, who says he has done everything in life he wanted to, namely: had fabulous love affairs and great possessions and Louis Vuitton trunks and diamonds and (“listen!”) big precious stones, and has traveled, and slept with gorgeous men who threw flowers at his feet, and saved lives, and been interviewed by the Library of Congress, which his press people want him to mention, and — hold one second, husband Jimmy’s calling: “Honey, I’m doing an interview and can’t talk unless it’s life or death. Is it life or death?”
Dougie Freeman, who shampooed Julia Child (“head like a cabbage”), who styled Farrah Fawcett, Holly Woodlawn, Lily Tomlin, who never would have guessed Cunanan a murderer, and who will, yes, answer the question, just two more minutes, a couple more clients to list, (“this is important’) who had ins with the mob but would absolutely never name names and who, for the record, has indeed met Whitey Bulger, promises to get to the point in just a bit; he needs to explain, and set the scene, and also close this door.
Dougie Freeman, who in other papers’ ink is “freewheeling” and “outrageous,” adjectives which at once describe him perfectly and do him no justice at all, who in three hours answers three questions and asks himself 12, spent two years making this decision, which he knows is big, big news.
Dougie Freeman — who speaks with no hint of plot or punctuation, who is infinitely quotable and knows it, who promises to but does not and should never keep a long story short — is, after 39 years, selling his West End Salon.
Dougie opened the West End Salon on Aug. 2, 1982, after a deal that — in his telling — involved Boston’s top criminal defense attorney (“first name Jeffrey, straight, gorgeous, but last name off-limits”), an alcoholic Frenchman (“wildly abusive”), the mob, inheritance fraud (“minor”), a woman who ran off with a stylist, and one racehorse.
Stories in Dougie’s hands are fantastic, dizzying, wildly crafted. They also — this doesn’t make them any less of a delight — largely stray from the question at hand. Dougie promises a story about himself and then, without fail, manages to melt away. “Let me tell you about” is his refrain; the focus is on his characters, wrought with such salacity that one forgets they have no business in his answer. Dougie is, in his own words, an entertainer first.
For a decade, Dougie slept on the salon’s floor. A journalist reported once that he slept always under the sinks. Untrue. Dougie keeps track of mistakes. It was his ex-Playboy-bunny roommate who slept always under the sinks. She was a lady; Dougie got the spot beneath the fan. The Village People came and played “Y.M.C.A.,” and Dougie felt the walls shake. He installed a stripper pole (“nothing like a good gimmick”); ran his business like a family (“raising other people’s children — that’s what I’ve done”); talked his way onto Bravo (“highest Nielsen-rated episode of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover”). In 39 years, he made the West End Salon a fixture. He is, himself, an institution.
And in 39 years at the West End Salon, Dougie has made people feel beautiful. That is his specialty, though he wishes Hollywood were. He logs onto Zoom, adjusts his angle, next announces that, goodness, this reporter is pretty. Dougie finds beauty everywhere, in spirits and character — he’s quick to stress that. But without fail, Dougie helps his clients find beauty in a mirror. There are rules to his art. People are seasons and bangs work for big noses. Thin faces need width. Fat faces need height. Dougie’s stories may dizzy. His styling inspires.
But now, Dougie Freeman is 68, and spending two hours daily cleaning 1,350 square feet of waterfront Commercial Street real estate is great for his figure, not for his knees. His husband needs care. (“For better or for worse, honey. Remember those vows.”) Swimming pools and movie stars, says Dougie, are coming to Provincetown, and the West End Salon — his 401(k), the building listed at $1.35 million, name, number, and client list for an extra $200K, hitting the market as soon as he can swing it — is simply too valuable to be a beauty salon anymore.
Dougie will keep doing this — “this” being a finger-scissor snip — until the day he dies. He’ll work for a competitor or open something small downtown. His clients need not fret. But it’s time, he says, for a change. He has been rich and he has been poor. Being rich is better. He’ll hire a personal trainer, and sing. He’ll write dark, riveting poetry and fiction that’s only nominally fiction. Can you imagine the stories in his pocket? He’ll work on his flamenco. He’ll fix his teeth.
Long story short: After 39 years at the West End Salon, Dougie Freeman — who needs some time to get a little gorgeous before his photo, who says this could be old news by next week — the interview requests from Bravo and the Globe will come — who prefers to tell and certainly can tell his story better than anyone, is letting a long story end.