Orson Welles had half the nation thinking the Martians were invading New Jersey, Little Orphan Annie was on the radio and filming began on a little movie called “Gone With the Wind.”
In Rockdale, Mattie Dockall purchased a beauty shop, located in the old A. A. Wolf home, next to what was then City Hall.
It became known as Rockdale Beauty Shop. The business has moved several times—it’s now Pam’s Rockdale Beauty Shop at 1706 W. Cameron—but it’s still going strong at 75.
In fact, it’s had the same phone number, 5111, ever since Rockdale went to a 4-digit system. (It’s now, of course 512-446-5111).
Mattie Dockall owned the shop for 48-1/2 years.
“Honestly, that beauty shop, and fixing hair was her life, it’s what she loved to do,” he recalled. “She took a little time to have me and then she went right back to the beauty shop.”
“You know that’s the way I feel about it, too,” current owner Pam Wages said. “I don’t know where I’d be if I weren’t doing this.”
Mattie Dockall sold the business to Lillian Brown who sold it to Brenda Barchenger who sold it to Wages, 18-1/2 years ago.
There have been lots of changes. In a 1986 interview Mrs. Dockall recalled the very early days included “lots of finger waves,” plus pin curls and many other forms of curling.
HALL OF FAME—If beauty shops had halls of fame there’s no doubt who would be the charter member of this one.
Eleanor “Susie” Weems got her first permanent at age 14 when her mother, Emma Howell, took her to Mattie Dockall in the old Wolf house.
And Mrs. Weems, now 90, is still a customer, after having her hair done by every Rockdale Beauty Shop “incarnation” in all its locations over three quarters of a century.
She still remembers that first visit. “They had this big machine with tubes that they rolled my hair in and you ended up looking like Medusa,” she laughed.
“And my hair was so thick they had to do it in two shifts,” she recalled.
Mrs. Weems’ hair has become something of a legend around the beauty shop.
“I’ve never had it colored,” she said. “It’s still this dark. I’ve always thought it was from my Bredt family blood. I’m related to the Bredts.”
GORGEOUS—Speaking of legends, Bert Dockall recalled the ultimate one connected with his mother’s beauty shop career.
In the late 1940s and 1950s the ultimate sports showman in the United States was a pro wrestler named Gorgeous George.
George Wagner was a pretty good wrestler but was a magnificent promoter.
He entered the ring on a red carpet, clad in a flowing purple robe, accompanied by a “valet,” flung bobbie pins—renamed “Georgie pins”—to the crowd, sprayed the ring with disinfectant before every match and cheated to win every conceivable way.
His trademark was his long, golden locks, which required treatment by a beautician. And when he wrestled in Rockdale in the summer of 1954 he asked Mattie Dockall to do his hair.
“Now, she struggled with that decision, I’d say even agonized over it,” Bert Dockall recalled. “In 1954, men didn’t go to beauty shops. I mean, they just didn’t.”
“And wrestlers sure didn’t go to beauty shops,” he laughed. “Well, she finally told him she’d do his hair, and I mean she did it reluctantly, but he had to come after hours.”
“Then, I guess she got to thinking about being alone with him so she asked her friend, and fellow beautician, Irene Lamb, to come with her as her assistant,” Dockall said. But they weren’t alone after all. Longtime Rockdale resident Judy Slusher, then Judy Lumpkins recalled she and Irene’s daughter Willyne—now Willyne Stanislaw—just couldn’t stand not being a part of it.
“I mean here was this huge celebrity, someone we’d seen on television, and that was a huge thing in the early 1950’s, coming to Rockdale. So Willyne and I snuck in and watched Miss Mattie do his hair.”
And the bottom line? Gorgeous George was a perfect gentleman in the beauty shop. Less so in the ring where his appearance drew 1,200 people to what’s now the elementary gym.
SLOW DAY—Bert Dockall recalled his mother did the hair of Rockdale’s “society ladies” of the era.
“They all came to her, from Margie Coffield (wife of multimillionaire H. H. Coffield) to Essie Camp (attorney E. A. Camp’s wife) to Martha Stricker (wife of variety store owner M. N. Stricker),” he said.
“But the one I think everyone remembers is Alice Barkley (wife of legendary physician Dr. T. S. Barkley,” he recalled.
“She had this long, black hair,” Dockall said. “She’d drive herself to the beauty shop but it seemed like she wouldn’t drive more than about five miles an hour and everybody was afraid to pass her. You’d look out the window downtown and here would come this long line of cars and you knew right away what it was. Mrs. Barkley was getting her hair done again.”
LOCATIONS—In addition to the Wolf House and its current location, Rockdale Beauty Shop was also located at the Clint Henry Building on Burleson Street, and the Minimax Shopping (site of today’s Brookshire Bros.) and Waymar Plaza.
There have been lots of changes and not just hair styles.
In the decade before Mrs. Dockall retired the culture changed and men started frequenting beauty shops.
“I think that was by far the biggest change,” she said in the 1986 interview. “Before then, the only time you’d see a man in a beauty shop was when he would come in to pick up his wife.”
Prices have also been a big change. Mrs. Dockall said for most of her early career the price for a shampoo and set was 50 cents. Toss in a 50-cent manicure and there was a pretty good makeover for a dollar.
One thing hasn’t changed, according to Bert Dockall.
“That old saying about going to a beauty shop to find out the news, that was absolutely true, according to my mother,” he laughed. “And I’m pretty sure, even with all the gadgets everyone has with them, it’s still just as true today.”