John Wayne's Last Hatmaker, Baron Hats

Baron Hats, a Hollywood staple for 50 years, is now in downtown L.A. Photo: Flickr

John Wayne got his hats from many different sources throughout his career, but one of his go-to sources in his later roles was Baron Hats. Founder Edison “Eddy” Baron came to California from his native Columbia and got a job making hats for the fabled Western Costume. In 1968, he opened a tiny shop that soon grew, making hats for Hollywood TV shows and films. The small company has made toppers for John Wayne in multiple films, as well as Harrison Ford (as Indiana Jones), Paul Hogan (as Crocodile Dundee), Jeff Bridges (as Wild Bill Hickock), and Kevin Costner (as Wyatt Earp). These demanding actors strove for authenticity in their roles, including their hats.

Baron’s location probably helped. Situated for many years on a nondescript stretch of storefronts at 1619 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, in the San Fernando Valley, the workshop was just a few miles north of the Disney and Warner Bros. studios, and just over the hills from the production companies in Hollywood, Culver City, and environs. With its neon signs, acres of hats for sale, and its Hollywood Hat Museum, the place attracted hat-lovers of all sorts, costume designers, celebrities, and the merely curious.

It wasn’t long after Baron set up shop that he made the cowboy hat worn by Wayne in True Grit. (He also made the hat worn by Jeff Bridges in the 2010 re-make.) Fittingly, Baron made the hat worn by Wayne’s character J.B. Books in Wayne’s final film, The Shootist.

Today Baron Hats is owned and operated by master hatter Mark Mejia, who trained under Eddy Baron before taking over the business. Mejia recently relocated the studio and shop from the Valley to downtown Los Angeles, at 546 S. Los Angeles St., on the third floor. While he occasionally adds new styles, Mejia still turns out the classics, including authentic replicas of hats made for Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and such contemporary stars as Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Bruce Willis. The workshop also cleans and repairs valuable old hats.

The headgear doesn't come cheap. Many of the hats are in the range of $800-$2,000 each. But you can just about rest assured that unless you lose one, these hats can last a lifetime.

Store hours are limited during the pandemic of 2020, so check opening times on the Baron Hats website before planning a visit.

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