The Kindest Cutter of All

Emil Messina Oak Park Arms BarberEmil Messina’s grandfather was a barber. So was his father and two brothers.

“I was born in a barbershop, barbers all around me,” he said. “I don’t know anything else.”

Messina, 84, has been a barber since the age of 13, when he was cutting the hair of soldiers during World War II in his native Italy.

He moved to Chicago on Christmas Eve 1951 and began plying his trade in downtown Chicago hotels like the Palmer House and Conrad Hilton, which had busy barbershops.

There he cut the hair of Liberace, Jimmy Durante and Jack Benny, to name a few celebrities. In 1986, he opened a two-chair shop in the Oak Park Arms, where he cuts the hair of a steady stream of customers, four days a week.

“I’m here to please the customer,” he said. “I’m not trying to sell you anything. If you want a hot dog, I’m not going to try and sell you a steak.”

Messina lives in Westchester and has no plans to retire.

“I will leave that to the man upstairs,” Messina said. “As long as he gives me the legs to stand up, I’ll be cutting hair.”

By David Pierini
Wednesday Journal – Aug. 6, 2013