Iconic hairdresser Kenneth Battelle, whose name was synonymous with the big helmets of hair that society dames wore for decades, died on Sunday at his home in Wappingers Falls, NY, two years after he cut his last head of hair. He was 86. Battelle, known as just Kenneth – no “Mr. Kenneth,” please — was the hairstylist of choice for both Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. He was responsable, in fact, for Jackie’s iconic bouffant, which he created “to lengthen her head and balance her broad cheekbones.” He used some hair spray, but allowed a few wisps to fall away to make her look less “set.” For that he was nicknamed Secretary of Grooming. He began his career at the Starlet Beauty Bar, opposite the Greyhound bus station in Syracuse, New York, where prostitutes made up much of the clientele. His bob cut there became ragingly popular. From there he moved to New York, where he soon got a job with Helena Rubinstein. After opening his own salon in 1963, he was dubbed the first celebrity hairdresser, styling the hair of Brooke Astor, Lee Radziwill, Katharine Graham, Judy Garland and Audrey Hepburn among others. Lucille Ball called him “God.” In 1961, Vogue magazine said that “almost every famous female head in the world has gone or will go” to Kenneth. The New York Times noted: “His contribution to his craft — he insisted that it was neither a profession nor an art — was to persuade women to rely less on permanents, bleaches and hair spray in favor of a more romantic look. He advanced the use of rollers to create natural-looking waves,” often making his own rollers out of lucite when the size he wanted didn’t exist. “But Mr. Battelle never saw himself as anything more than a hard-working servant, a word he liked to use. ‘What I do,’ he said, ‘is only a shampoo away from being nothing.’” Says Wikipedia: “For a while Kenneth enjoyed the celebrity lifestyle, being considered equivalent to an A-list celebrity. In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2003, Kenneth stated that although he used to enjoy attending social events, a headline in a mid-1960s issue of the New York Journal-American reading “Pickle Queen goes to Yacht Party With Hairdresser” upset him and led to his decision to avoid going out with his clients again.
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Poet, underground movie star, and “beloved icon of the downtown New York art scene since the ’60s“ Taylor Mead died in Colorado yesterday after suffering a stroke. He was 88. This comes just a month after accepting a settlement from his landlord Ben Shaoul to vacate the Lower East Side tenement building he called home for three decades. Mead had fled to Denver to live with family, but told friends he longed to return to downtown Manhattan. From Wikipedia: “Born in Detroit, Michigan, Mead appeared in Ron Rice’s beat classic The Flower Thief (1960), in which he ‘traipses with an elfin glee through a lost San Francisco of smoke-stuffed North Beach cafes…’” making him, as The Village Voice noted, “the first underground movie star.” Taylor, of course, is most famous for appearing in countless Andy Warhol films, including Taylor Mead’s Ass, a film that consisted of, as Art Forum famously described it, ‘seventy-six seriocomic minutes of this poet/actor’s buttocks absorbing light, attention, debris.’” Ah, the ’60s. He was also the subject of the 2005 documentary Excavating Taylor Mead (left). The New York Times today described Taylor as a Warhol “superstar,” Beat poet, stray-cat feeder, and the sweet face and voice of an era, saying that with his death “he takes a large slice of Lower Manhattan’s cultural history with him.” And of course I say this every time an icon passes, but we will not see the likes of him again. It’s very sad day, indeed.
Soap opera legend Jeanne Cooper, who for nearly four decades played grande dame Katherine Chancellor on The Young and the Restless, died this morning after “a long uphill battle for an undisclosed illness,” according to her son, actor Corbin Bernsen. She was 84. Cooper joined the soap opera six months after it debuted in March 1973, and eventually earned 11 Daytime Emmy nominations and a trophy for best actress in 2008. In 1984, Cooper’s real-life facelift was televised on the show as her character underwent the surgery at the same time, and is considered a revolutionary milestone in daytime television. ”It opened up reconstructive surgery for so many people, youngsters getting things done,” she said. “To this day, people will come up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for doing that. My mom or I had something done, and not just cosmetic surgery.’ That was an incredible experience in my life.” Now watch this priceless ’80s-era clip from the show featuring Jeanne and the incomparable
Deven Green Brenda Dickson. Read more at Fox and Wikipedia.
Ray Harryhausen, the longtime master of stop-motion animation in the movies, died today at London’s Hammersmith Hospital, where he had been receiving treatment for about a week. He was 92. The cause of his death was not immediately known, but his passing was “gentle and quiet,” said his biographer and friend Tony Dalton. Harryhausen, the great-grandson of African explorer David Livingstone, is the wizard behind the amazing and exciting effects in 1955′s It Came from Beneath the Sea, 1963′s Jason and the Argonauts (that skeleton fight!!), 1956′s Earth vs the Flying Saucers, and 1981′s Clash of the Titans, among others. Harryhausen made 17 movies in his career. George Lucas, who borrowed some of Harryhausen’s techniques for Star Wars, said, “I had seen some other fantasy films before, but none of them had the kind of awe that Ray Harryhausen’s movies had.” Science fiction author Ray Bradbury, a longtime friend and admirer, once remarked: “Harryhausen stands alone as a technician, as an artist and as a dreamer. He breathed life into mythological creatures he constructed with his own hands.” Harryhausen sculpted characters from three to 15 inches tall and photographed them one frame at a time in continuous poses, creating the illusion of motion. In today’s movies, such effects are achieved digitally. Though Harryhausen admired the quality of modern digital effects, he stuck to the old-fashioned way of creating fantasy. “I don’t think you want to make it quite real. Stop motion, to me, gives that added value of a dream world,” he said. [Fun fact: To save time and work, in the movie It Came from Beneath the Sea, he gave the giant octopus only six tentacles instead of eight.]
Kenny Kerr, the legendary longtime Las Vegas entertainer who was one of the first female impersonators to perform on the Las Vegas Strip, died in his sleep on Saturday. He was 60. His show Boy-Lesque, the longest-running show of its kind, opened on May 13, 1977, at the Silver Slipper Casino. Known for his impersonations of Joan Rivers, Barbra Streisand, Debbie Reynolds, Sammy Davis Jr, Cher, and Rich Little, it’s said that Streisand actually became a huge fan. Kerr was the first female impersonator ever to be inducted into the Tropicana’s Las Vegas Hall of Fame in 1999. He also performed at the Sahara, Stardust, and the Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino. In 2002, Kerr wrapped a five-year run at the Plaza, which was his 25th year as a Las Vegas headliner. Says the Las Vegas Weekly: “Kenny Kerr was a maverick star who made his fame wearing tall wigs, gowns splashed with sequins, and heavy stage makeup. He was naturally funny, sang in his own voice, and helped forge a form of entertainment that formerly existed only on the fringes. Kerr was a genuine Las Vegas stage pioneer, the sort of performer whose influence is to be felt long after his death.”
Allan Arbus, whose dozen appearances as the sarcastic psychiatrist Major Sidney Freedman on the ’1970s TV series M*A*S*H, died Friday at home in Los Angeles, according to his daughter, photographer Amy Arbus. He was 95. In addition to his many roles on TV and in movies – among them Matlock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cinderella Liberty, and Damien: Omen II – the New York City native had been a photographer during his service in the army. His wife, Diane Arbus, was perhaps the more famous photographer. Allan met Diane when he was an employee in the advertising department of her parents’ Fifth Avenue department store; they married in 1941 and formed a professional partnership. In the 2006 mostly fiction movie Fur, Diane was portrayed by Nicole Kidman and Allan by Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell.