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Goofy prize goes to father-son duo for comb-over trick | (KRT) Perched on a white cloud somewhere in the great beyond, Frank Jackson Smith, an ever-balding and wisecracking failed inventor, must be laughing at himself.

A patented comb-over hairstyle of his that never earned a red cent during his life finally got recognized - but with a wink and a jab during the weekend, rather than laurels and cash.

And, as Frank's son and co-inventor, Donald Jackson Smith of Orlando, Fla., says, his "Pappy," once a Virginia hobo who rode the rails during the Great Depression, would "laugh until his eyes leaked."

The father-and-son team was recognized at a lampoon banquet in early October at Harvard University for achievements in science, called the "Ig Nobel Prize" - a play on the $5 college word ignoble. Other winners delved into such useful topics as whether herrings communicate by being, um, flatulent; and whether the 5-second rule for eating dropped food is valid.

The invention came about as all Smith father-and-son ideas did: over a jug of homemade wine sipped at the supper table back in 1977.

"He was pretty bald, so I was poking at him some," said Donald Smith, 66, a retired Orlando cop who gloats that he never went bald. "I suggested he let it grow long on all the sides and back, and then pile it all on."

From that remark, Frank cooked up a method for partially bald men like himself to divide their remaining hair into three sections, grow it at different lengths and bring it all together on top like a thatched roof.

"He went to a lawyer, and if it don't beat all he got a ... patent," the son said.

"Well, here it is," he said, pulling out the yellowing paper of U.S. Patent No. 4,022,227 issued in May 1977 to both Frank and Donald Smith. "It was never worth a ... cent for the paper he wrote it on."

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But not listed in the patent was Frank's plan to then create a spray-on hair tonic for men that would hold it all in place.

"He wanted to write an ad in a tabloid magazine and say it was patented, so people would look at it," Donald Smith said. "But he never did."

The elder Smith worked on the hairspray off and on for years, practicing on his own balding head, except for times his wife got mad and hid his hair elixir.

"He folded his hair this way and that and got it looking pretty good," his son said.

Frank died in 1985 at age 74, six years before his first fleeting bit of fame in a write-up in Spy magazine in 1991 on unusual patents.

"I talked to the fellow but I didn't think it was a real magazine until they sent me the write-up," he said.

For the Ig Nobel ceremony on Saturday, sponsored by the science and humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, Donald Smith received a trophy of an empty cereal box and a pie-plate medal hanging from a shoestring.

Donald Smith could only chuckle at it. His son, Scott Jackson Smith, accepted the award in Boston on behalf of the elder generations.

"I like the idea of my father getting some recognition after all this time," Donald Smith said.

But the father and son's fame won't end in a few newspaper articles. The comb-over patent is featured in the upcoming "Combover: The Movie." It is a humorous 84-minute documentary by Colorado director Chris Marino, being submitted to the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the hallmark for independent films.

Marino and his team crisscrossed the country in search of the best and worst comb-overs. Along with an interview of Donald Smith, the film includes a forensic breakdown of the infamous comb-over worn by business mogul Donald Trump.

Donald Smith, who still doesn't expect to make a penny off the patent, said of the other Donald's do: "He can have it. I'm not gonna sue Trump."

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© 2004, The Orlando Sentinel Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services