‘Comb-out’ cat fight in MGM hair salon

Fashion · Film

Memories of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio’s early-morning hair-and-makeup ritual as described by one of the era’s leading girls-with-curls, Leslie Caron.

EXCERPTED FROM: Donald Knox, “The Magic Factory: How MGM Made An American in Paris” (New York: Praeger Publishers) 1973

One of the biggest fights between the ladies was in hairdressing. Sydney Guilaroff was the king of that empire; he’s on all the credits. He was a very colorful figure. He would be extremely helpful and also extremely cutting, depending on his mood. The actresses, to show their importance, had to be combed by him. So some mornings in hairdressing there were Kathryn Grayson, who was then a big deal, and Jane Powell, and Elizabeth Taylor, and of course myself, and then there would be one or two legitimate, real actresses, as opposed to the musical comedy stars. Then there were all the aspiring girls and the stars from other studios who were on loanout and who were very important.

The place was in the middle of this vast room with no cubicles, and the noise in the morning was like a chicken coop. It used to drive me absolutely crazy; all I thought of is not to be combed by Guilaroff and to just get out of there as quickly as possible. The hairdressers were all females; he never had a man there.

Some actresses would, it was pointed out to me later, keep Sydney longer than others. We all had the same tie in hairdressing, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., and they would keep Sydney longer by saying, “Sydney, this is not good enough,” or “Look my partings too high, it won’t match,” or “Don’t you think my hair’s too curly today, Sydney?” So Sydney would have to fuss with that girl and couldn’t get on to the next. That was the technique to capture Sydney for the whole length of time, so that some girls would have to go onto the set without having had Sydney’s final touch. And then those girls who were neglected by him would whisper how unhappy they were to their private girl hairdresser, who was going to go onto the set with them. That hairdresser then would come to Sydney and whisper to him, “Sydney, you have to take care of Kathryn; she’s really unhappy that you aren’t combing her.” So Sydney would then say to the difficult star he was combing out, “Sweetheart, I’m coming right back, but first let me finish off Kathryn before she goes on the set.” He’d come to Kathryn and pretend to do something, because she was perfectly well combed anyway. There was more acting going on in there than on the set.

Leslie Caron quoted in Donald Knox, “The Magic Factory: How MGM Made An American in Paris” (New York: Praeger Publishers), 1973

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