When MTV first debuted in 1981, few people believed in the fledgling network and its concept of airing music videos 24 hours a day. Their launch was plagued with technical problems and the station itself was starved for content.
MTV co-founder, Les Garland, details the shaky beginnings in a New York Post interview:
There was some fear, because we didn’t get the instant distribution some people thought we would. We used to hear, from cable operators and advertisers, “nobody’s gonna watch music on television 24 hours a day. That’ll never work.” Heard it from people in [our own] management, too. It was closer to touch-and-go than people realized. There were threats of pulling the plug.
Given the newness of music videos, the channel had only around 250 to choose from at the beginning.
One demographic that may have been initially counted out, but who undoubtedly contributed to the success of early MTV, was elementary through high-school-aged kids who had loads of free viewing time on their hands. Kids who would end up spending hours a day obsessing over this new medium—a medium which moved so much faster than what they had been used to seeing, having grown up on network television. MTV ushered in the age of ADD.
I was one of those captivated kids, and what a fascinating time it was to become “musically aware” with this brand-new, content-starved format repetitively pumping-out clips from whatever handful of (mostly new wave) acts that were forward-thinking enough to devote the time and energy to shooting videos. Suddenly bands you would NEVER hear on the radio, were appearing on TV screens nation-wide and the kids were eating it up.
In those early days of obsessive MTV viewing, I began to notice this one guy. This one middle-aged, balding, bespectacled man. This one guy who was conspicuous for his squareness among pretty boy rock stars and hot models. This one guy who seemed to be in like EVERY freaking video. Was he a video director inserting himself Hitchcock style into his clips? Was he a record label president? Was he the bands’ coke dealer? Who the hell was this guy?
And so, for more than thirty years this man has been in the back of my head as “that ubiquitous middle-aged ‘80s video bald guy.”
I was recently tooling around You Tube, watching the video for Haircut 100’s classic hit “Love Plus One” and had my memory jarred. “Oh yeah,” I thought, “there he is!” “There’s that guy! The headmaster from the Bonnie Tyler video! The guy who struts down the street next to Joan Jett! The dad from the Squeeze video! The shaky-handed martini-drinker from the Billy Joel video! WHO IS THIS GUY!?”
This being 2015, and having the luxury of google and the Internet, I went to work searching for something, anything on this mystery man. Amazingly, I turned up nothing—except for other people asking the exact same question: “Who is the guy in every early ‘80s video?”
So, next I contacted Nick Heyward of Haircut 100—because, again, we live in the future and you can just instantly access ANYONE. I sent Heyward a photo and asked “do you remember who this guy is?” Heyward replied almost immediately:
He was the wardrobe guy/actor/extra. Nice chap. Pop was a closely-knit family in those days.
There was a lead, but not much. Searches of “‘80s music video wardrobe guy, bald” turned up nothing.
From there, I took my quest to MTV’s Mark Goodman, to see if he had any inside information. Goodman responded: “No clue who the dude is but pretty funny you spotted him. You must have lots of free time!” So, great, childhood icon, MTV’s Mark Goodman, thinks I’m a total loser.
Subsequent sleuthing started to reveal a connection between the various videos that the pervasive bald guy was appearing in: a production company called MGMM.
MGMM was THE go-to company for music video production in the early ‘80s—mostly because they were one of the first companies to specialize in it. The company’s partners Brian Grant, Scott Millaney, Russel Mulcahy, and David Mallet were essentially the top directors in the burgeoning field. Their content DOMINATED early MTV, which, as we noted earlier, was quite sparse early-on. The most ground-breaking, iconic, most memorable music videos of the first three years of MTV were by-and-large all produced by MGMM. So the clues began to come together. Could the mystery middle-aged bald man be a costumer for MGMM?
Attempts to contact former partners of MGMM went mostly unanswered, but someone from David Mallet’s production company did get back to me with a name. That name was “Michael Baldwin.” Finally! A name to go with the pate!
Mallet’s company did not wish to comment any further or give additional information—and of course there’s stuff I’m still dying to know. Was it a goof among the production to have him turn up so often, or was it simply a matter of being short-staffed for extras? How many videos did he appear in? I know of at least 20. Were there more? Unfortunately, I can’t ask Baldwin himself—his Facebook page indicates that he sadly passed away due to an illness in October of 2014.
Baldwin was indeed a costumer, and an accomplished one at that. His website displays some stunning examples of his work, and clearly it was what he should be remembered for rather than his myriad of video cameos. That website is well worth a visit for Baldwin’s audio commentary on the gallery photos of his designs. He did a lot of work in the early ‘80s dressing pop stars, and obviously dressing sets with himself. But his work goes all the way back to the early ‘60s. He was even responsible for costumes on the Rolling Stones famous train-wreck Rock and Roll Circus. The guy had an impressive career outside of his bit parts in music clips.
As much as is left still unanswered, at least we can finally answer the question of “Who is that ubiquitous early ‘80s music video bald guy?”
His name is Michael Baldwin.
If you’ve spotted any we missed, please leave us a comment. Here’s Baldwin in action at 52 seconds into this clip for “The French Song,” arguably Joan Jett’s best track (or at least my personal favorite):