Monday, September 29, 2014

Hair-raising Tales


Léonard Autié (Monsieur Léonard) was the imaginative 18th century hairdresser responsible for creating the wildly elaborate coiffures of Marie Antoinette. The rococo hairstyles he concocted during her heyday were called poufs, and several of the fantastical coifs he whipped up for her rose 36 inches or more from the top of her head.  In her offbeat and whimsical Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, Jessica Kerwin Jenkins describes one of Autié’s first important hairstyles for Marie Antoinette, the pouf d’ inoculation - a celebration of Louis XIV’s vaccination: “a rising sun and a serpent holding a club as he shimmied up an olive tree nestled into her hair. The sun symbolized the king. The olive tree stood for peace. The slinky serpent represented medicine, with its club to clobber disease.”

A Léonard Autié confection

Autié had been a young barber from the provinces who found his way to Paris with not much more than a shell comb to his name. He quickly made a reputation for himself as a stylist working in the theater.  By the end of his life he could look back with satisfaction, having been the premier hairdresser in France before the overthrow of the monarchy, establishing a hairdressing academy and studio, operating the first theater in the country to produce Italian operas year-round, and, no less an accomplishment, having gotten out of France with his head intact once the revolution came.

Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette

In 1938, MGM released the extravagant historical epic Marie Antoinette, a big-budget film planned and prepared for his wife, Norma Shearer, by Irving Thalberg. The task of crafting hairstyles for Shearer in the title role fell to Sydney Guilaroff, MGM’s foremost hairdresser, the man who took over coiffing many of the studio’s top leading ladies beginning in 1934.  Guilaroff studied French history in preparation for the project and, in the course of working on the film, supervised the creation of over 2,000 court wigs and made use of practically all of MGM’s supply of hairpieces.  Nearly 60 years later he would recall in his memoir that at the premiere of Marie Antoinette he heard gasps ripple through the audience during certain close-ups and that “many uttered the words “beautiful” and “marvelous” during a scene in which an actor wore a wig dressed with a birdcage at the top, with what appeared to be a live bird inside. When the actor secretly pulled a hidden cord, the bird chirped!”

Sydney Guilaroff at work on Marie Antoinette (1938)

It was following Marie Antoinette’s release that Guilaroff finally began to receive what he had originally been promised by MGM, a screen credit for every film he worked on - a first for Hollywood’s hairstylists.

Another Guilaroff coiffure for Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette

In the late 1950s a soignée updo known as the "French twist" or "French roll" emerged and started a trend. By no means as exaggerated as the original pouf at first, the look became increasingly "bouffant" over time, finally transforming into a towering upswept mass called the "beehive."

One version of the "French Twist," circa 1957
Audrey Hepburn's ultra-chic "twist"/"beehive" in 1961's Breakfast
 at Tiffany's  (hairstyles supervised by Nellie Manley)
Sydney Guilaroff styled an elegant "beehive"
 for Natalie Wood for Gypsy (1962)

'60s super-model Jean Shrimpton wears a "butterfly" updo
 Marie Antoinette herself would have envied


It is iconic rebel Louise Brooks who most often comes to mind when contemplating the origins of bobbed hair and Sydney Guilaroff claimed to be the man behind Brooks's modish cut. As he remembered it, he was a youthful stylist - still in his teens - at the time, and was the hairdresser to whom the young dancer/starlet was assigned when she came to the salon in New York's Hotel McAlpin for a new 'do. Guilaroff recalled that Brooks asked for "something different." What she got was a coiffure with the back snipped short to match the sides that came to be known as the "shingle."

Louise Brooks

There has been some dispute among classic film fans about which actress popularized the bob on the silver screen. Colleen Moore aficionados assert that Brooks had the cut first but that Moore, the bigger star then, launched the bob's popularity. Others point out that Mary Thurman was the actress who brought the look to the screen before anyone else in Leap Year (1921). However, that film went unseen in the U.S. for decades because its star/director, Fatty Arbuckle, had just become embroiled in the scandal that ultimately destroyed his career.

Colleen Moore
Jessica Kerwin Jenkins also probes the origins of bobbed hair in her encyclopedia/"anecdotal history of elegant delights." Beginning with a passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1920 short story, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," she moves on to an earlier decade and "eurhythmic dancer" Caryathis (nee Elisabeth Toulemont), a young woman who "lopped off her tresses in a fit of heartbreak in 1913." Designer Coco Chanel was a student of the French dancer and Jenkins suggests that she was prompted by her instructor's dramatic act to crop her own mane. It's possible, though, that Chanel may also have been inspired by the "Castle" bob...

In 1915 famed ballroom dancer Irene Castle snipped
her long hair up to her ears for the sake of convenience
 - and created a  sensation with the "Castle" bob
Coco cuts her hair: styled traditionally at left, bobbed at right

The classic bob also enjoyed a revival during in the 1960's. Barbara Streisand was one of several singers of the time (many of them "British Invasion" stars) who popularized the updated look... 

Barbra Streisand's "poufy" bob
(photo by Milton Greene)

Vidal Sassoon's severely modern "five-point" cut of the mid-'60s recalled the "shingle" of the 1920s.

'60s model Peggy Moffitt was synonymous with Sassoon's "five-point" cut

When Liza Minnelli was cast in the star-making role of Sally Bowles for Bob Fosse's soon-to-be-Oscar-laden Cabaret in 1972, she initially thought of Marlene Dietrich as a possible model for her character, a Weimar-era Berlin chanteuse. But Liza's father, Vincente Minnelli, told her there had been others who were as fabulous as Dietrich back in the day, and mentioned Louise Brooks. Liza "looked at the pictures and he explained to me about wanting to be different."

Liza's Cabaret "shingle"


In 1996, Sydney Guilaroff's as-told-to autobiography (with Cathy Griffin), Crowning Glory, was published by the GPG Group. In his book, Guilaroff presents himself not only as the pioneering hair stylist he was, but also as an intimate of both moguls and stars, a force to be reckoned with and, at times, something of a prophet. Eventually, after noticing a factual error here and there, the reader begins to take some of his recollections with a grain of salt...

The moment I saw the rushes for 1960's Tall Story, her first film, I whispered to her, "Jane, don't worry dear, you might even turn out bigger than your father. Just wait."

Jane Fonda, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), hair by Sydney Guilaroff

I learned that Fox was searching for a new Marc Antony. I advised Elizabeth to take a close look at the work of a Welsh actor named Richard Burton. "Take my advice," I urged, "he's the one."

Elizabeth Taylor, Butterfield 8 (1960), hair by Sydney Guilaroff

On Saturday night, August 4, 1962, exactly eight weeks after Fox fired her, Marilyn telephoned me in despair...As I tried to calm her, it never occurred to me that I would be one of the last people to speak with her that fateful night.

Marilyn Monroe, Something's Got to Give (1962), hair by Sydney Guilaroff

Whether the reader believes everything Guilaroff reports in his chronicle (passionate, more than casual love affairs with Greta Garbo and Ava Gardner?!?!) about his life in Hollywood, there's no denying his creative genius or his talent with a comb and scissors. From poufs to bobs and everything in between, he was a master stylist who fashioned countless unforgettable coiffures during his 400+ film career, and it was to him Grace Kelly turned when she wanted her hair perfectly styled for her wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956.

Hair Designs by Sydney Guilaroff:

Crawford, Shearer, Russell: The Women (1939)
Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind (1939)
Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Lucille Ball, Dubarry was a Lady (1943)
Marilyn Monroe, The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Jean Hagen, Debbie Reynolds, Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Leslie Caron, Gigi (1958)
Eva Marie Saint, North by Northwest (1959)
Anne Bancroft, The Graduate (1968)
Liza Minnelli, New York, New York (1977)
  • Encyclopedia of the Exquisite by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2010)
  • Crowning Glory by Sydney Guilaroff, as told to Cathy Griffin (CPG Group, 1996)

Grace Kelly becomes Princess Grace, her hair styled by Sydney Guilaroff


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! Nothing reflected the arrival of the "modern woman" like the bob (along with the end of bustles and petticoats).

  2. A wonderful salute to the work of Guilaroff.

    Personally, the less attention I have to pay to my hair the better I like it. Nonetheless, I glory in the exquisite design (and possible agony) others go through to look so marvelous.

    1. Life (and hair) must be so much easier when you have the likes of Sydney Guilaroff standing at your elbow with comb, scissors, blower and hair spray at the ready.

  3. P.S. I forgot to add Jane Fonda (love that marceled look) and Jean Shrimpton!

    1. Hi Becky! I'm guessing there must've been a previous comment that got lost somehow...

  4. Fabulous post Lady Eve. Mr. Guilaroff was certainly influential, as was Vidal Sassoon. And I'd love to have heard Mr. Leonard's court stories - just think about the kind of parties they had - non-stop. Only their bird cages had real birds in them. Irene Castle did start the bobbed hair but Louise's (LuLu's) look was unique.Thanks for posting these beautiful images.

    1. It took me a while to finally finish this piece and once I was done, I made a visit to your blog - where I came upon your (great) most recent post, "60s A-GO-GO." And there I saw a photo of Peggy Moffitt - a photo I'd very nearly used in this post. And Twiggy, whose boyish bob was almost featured here, too. Great minds...

      Louise Brooks's look certainly was unique - as was her personality, mystique and legend. Not to mention that she was the centerpiece of a silent masterpiece, "Pandora's Box". All of this together is, I'm sure, why she is better known today for the "shingle" bob than others who popularized the look.

  5. Wow! Reading this was a blast. The work of Sydney Guillaroff is something of a running gag in my household, as my partner and I are HUGE fans of his over-the-top ENORMOUS hairstyles. We'll watch a 60s film and lay bets that is an actress is sporting a skinned-back hairline and a mountain of asymmetrical curls, it'll be a Guillaroff.
    His work is both iconic (the Fonda hair in "Horses"/ Minnelli in "Cabaret") and sometimes comic. This post is so informative, so much fun, and so in the spirit of Mr. Sydney (researching "Rosemary's Baby" I read his book and couldn't believe he passed himself off as straight while featuring a full-page glamour photo of him and his very handsome "grandson" he adopted when the young man was well into adulthood.) that it pays tribute to his stylistic genius, but takes his self-serving legend with a grain of salt.
    Loved the photos,loved the history.loved the topic. Close to being my favorite of so many fave posts of yours.
    Oh, and I think Guillaroff's last on-screen appearance is in "New York, New York" doing Liza's hair just before the "Happy Endings" number.
    Thanks for a hair-raising reading experience, Lady Eve!

    1. Hi Ken. So, you are a Guilaroff fan! I should have guessed. I'd always associated him so closely with "Golden Age" hair styling that I was a bit surprised and very impressed to find he'd designed Anne Bancroft's looks for "The Graduate" and Jane Fonda's for "They Shoot Horses." If stylists had ever been given Oscars, Sydney would've had shelves full.

      His rather dizzying autobiography is filled with interesting history - and suspect stories. I couldn't believe he had the nerve to claim serious romances with Garbo and Ava. Quite an imagination (as many of his hairstyles illustrate) - but who knows why he felt compelled - in the 1990s - to make up such outrageous nonsense.

      Very glad you enjoyed this piece, Ken, I had great fun with it.

  6. Eve, although a lot of hair-related puns come to mind, I'll play it straight and just say that I enjoyed this tribute to the hair styles of Sydney Guilaroff. Of the great do's included in your marvelous pics, my faves are those worn by Eva Marie Saint (sexy but cool) and Anne Bancroft (she never looked prettier).

    1. The two 'dos you mention - Eva Marie Saint and Anne Bancroft - are, I think, two very classy, classic looks. You're right, Rick, Anne Bancroft never looked better than in "The Graduate."

  7. Sigh... I always wanted movie hair. Or better yet, I wanted Sydney to stop by my house every day to do my do! Very enjoyable post!

    1. I always wanted movie hair, too, and remember reading movie magazines when I was 12 or 13 that included sections on how to "set your hair" (with rollers) in various movie star styles. It seemed to me all the instructions were pretty much the same. I was too young to realize that it was the stylist that made the difference.

  8. Hair styles do make a difference in ones look and how one is perceived. I totally agree with Rick that Anne Bancroft never looked better than in THE GRADUATE. Eva Marie Saint is a perfect cool Hitchcock blonde. I’ll add Natalie Wood in GYSPY who I always thought never looked better. I also think Jane Fonda’s look in HORSES was a perfect fit for the period.

    1. One of the reasons I included the photo of Natalie Wood in "Gypsy" is that I've always thought she was perfectly coiffed in the film and love the look. Jane Fonda's hairstyle in "They Shoot Horses" really is a superb 1930s look. I only wish Sydney Guilaroff had done Diane Keaton's hair for Godfather I and II - her hair isn't quite right for the era (though Talia Shire's look is spot-on).

  9. Ah, Guillaroff, THE fabulous gals whose tresses were on the silver screen at MGM! Eva Marie Saint was my favorite, but really, they were all fabulous. I remember my dear late mom putting my unruly curls in great big rollers! :-D Thanks for the memories! P.S.: I haven't forgotten your encouragement about getting back to my novel; I'm halfway there. Thanks, my friend, and have a great holiday weekend! :-D

    1. Glad to know you're hard at work on your novel, Dorian...keep going!

  10. What a beautiful article! I love reading about the background behind the different styles and seeing such perfect pictures of them. I have to say my very favorite is Jane Fonda's marcelled look in The Shoot Horses Don't They. I always loved that. One of my favorite movies is Norma Shearer's Marie Antoinette. She was gorgeous in it and also acted the part beautifully. This was a wonderful article, Eve.........

    1. Thanks, Becky, thanks for stopping back by and so glad you enjoyed this post.

  11. I have been off the map for a while, but it is always a joy to return to your writing. You have woven (or should I said plaited?) the history of some Hollywood hairstyles and the career of Guilaroff so admirably. I must get my hands on Guilaroff's book to see what he may have remembered about Marlene Dietrich in Kismet. A Dietrich collector has one of her wigs from that film and has sent me some great photos of it. I will forward them to you!

    1. Hello Joseph! Great to hear from you. I've been a bit off the map myself lately but have continue to check in on your fabulous Dietrich blog. Love her. One of the very few who actually can be called a screen goddess.

      Please DO send photos of Dietrich's wigs from "Kismet." Thank you!

  12. What an interesting and excellent post.

    I would also like to invite you to participate in my upcoming blogathon in August. The link is below with more details.

    1. Thank you, Crystal. I'll see if I can come up with something original for your August Barrymore blogathon (a great idea, by the way).