Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hallie Ephron remembers Sandra Dee in ME, MY HAIR, AND I

HALLIE EPHRON: When I started seriously writing, I took a class in essay writing. One of our first assignments was “The History of My Hair.” So when my pal, the wonderful writer Elizabeth Benedict, asked if I’d like like to contribute an essay to an anthology about our obsessions with our hair, I enthusiastically signed up.

I took that early-early piece, along with other musings I’ve written since on the subject of my hair, and worked them into an essay I call “Remembering Sandra Dee.” It’s about how I used to cut out photos from movie magazines and beg the hairdresser to cut my hair like that. And how my aspirations for my hair probably short-circuited my accomplishments as an athlete.


My new essay is in stellar company in Elizabeth Benedict’s extraordinary anthology, Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession (Algonquin), which was just named PEOPLE Magazine’s pick of the week.

Here are just a few quotes from the essays in it;

Jane Smiley: All I knew was, the hairstyle that I chose from the styling book was called Femme Fatale. Or maybe it was Harlot.

Siri Hustvedt: We are the only mammals who braid, knot, powder, pile up, oil, spray, tease, perm, color, curl, straighten, augment, shave off, and clip our hair.

Deborah Feldman: Eventually I threw away my wigs. I abandoned the community that had forced me to wear them.

Suleika Joauad: Chemotherapy is a take-no-prisoners stylist.

Marita Golden: Black women’s hair is knotted and gnarled by issues of race, politics, history, and pride.

Anne Lamott: Dreadlocks make people wonder if you’re trying to be rebellious. It’s not as garbling and stapled as a tongue stud, say, or as snaky as tattoos.

Emma Gilbey Keller: “Your hair is so thick,” my grandmother used to tell me with a curled-lip emphasis that immediately turned the statement into an insult.

Deborah Tannen: Another woman told me that after she appeared on television standing behind the president of the United States in a bill-signing ceremony, her mother’s comment was, “I could see you didn’t have time to cut your bangs.”

Maria Hinojosa:when I was asked to anchor my own show, I was told to tie my hair back and make its distinctiveness disappear. I think they wanted me to be a Latina Talbots model.

My essay begins:

It's 1958 and I'm ten years old, a skinny kid, all elbows and knees, a long face with big eyes under furry caterpillar eyebrows, sitting on a stack of telephone books in the chair at Mr. Latour's Beauty Salon, where my mother gets her hair done once a week. I've come here often with her, but this is the first time Mr. Latour is cutting my hair. …

“Can you cut it like this?” I ask. I show Mr. Latour a picture of June Allyson that I've cut from a magazine. She's a fresh-faced blond with short, curly bangs and a perfect pageboy.

Here’s me and the stars whose looks I aspired to imitate.

So fess up, when you were growing up, whose picture did you bring to the hairdresser, and did it ever come out the way you wanted it? Men, did you aspire to Elvis’s forelock? Warren Beatty’s mutton chops.

ME, MY HAIR, AND I: TWENTY-SEVEN WOMEN UNTANGLE AN OBSESSION goes on sale today, an original paperback and an ebook! Events in NYC this week, Cambridge MA on Oct. 5 and Wash DC Oct. 13. Check out Elizabeth Benedict's blog for more information. the sched. on my blog: http://ElizabethBenedict.blogspot. #LoveYourHair


  1. I never wanted to look like someone else as much as I wanted my hair to be long and curly. Despite permanent waves [yielding frizz] and more home hair curler things promising me my wished-for curls, it never did work out that way.

    "Me, My Hair, and I" is on my "I've got to read that book" list . . . .

  2. I love these paired pictures, Hallie! In high school I would bring pictures from Seventeen Magazine, but I don't remember a particular star. And of course I NEVER ended up looking like the pictures. I am grateful I missed the whole eighties (is that right?) perm-frizz fad.

  3. What a great essay, and wow - some of the quotes from the book are powerful!

    Deborah Tannen: Another woman told me that after she appeared on television standing behind the president of the United States in a bill-signing ceremony, her mother’s comment was, “I could see you didn’t have time to cut your bangs.”

    This is a must read for me.

    Oh yes - there was always a picture in hand when I waltzed into the "beauty parlor," and I never came nearly as close to looking like that photo as you did, Hallie. Great shots! I remember major disappointment that my hair really did not resemble, in any way, Hayley Mills' hair in "The Parent Trap."

    My hair was a major self-confidence deflator all my life. Thin, fine, brittle, mousy. It wasn't until much later in life that my hair started looking healthy and for some reason - a major mystery - got thicker. The decision to stop coloring is one I wish I'd made years earlier and would have if I'd known there was pure silver under all those chemicals I was slathering on my head!

  4. Edith, unfortunately, I did not miss the 80's perm-frizzled hair:)

    In graduate school, I told my then-boyfriend that I was taking Jessica Lange's picture into the salon so I could come out looking like her in Tootsie. She had lovely, soft blond curls.

    He said: "You're going to a hairstylist, not a plastic surgeon."

    Grrr, will never forget that!

  5. These are great! What a fun collection, Hallie. I never brought a photo but there's a wonderful moment involving one in the movie Educating Rita. Rita (Julie Walters) works at a salon and an older lady brings in a photo of the haircut she wants, and it's soon-to-be-princess Diana Spencer in her now-iconic hairdo with the bangs. The look on Julie Walters' face is so hysterical.

    I hate my hair. I like hats.

  6. Oh gosh, Kaye Barley - Hayley Mills in "The Parent Trap!" I remember that hair.

    And Lucy, omg but he was mean. Good thing you didn't marry him.

    Ramona, I missed the Princess Di fad. I wonder if Educating Rita is on Netflix.

  7. That Breck girl. Confession, I still like that look. But what amazes me about your post, Hallie, is the photos you've saved of the emerging you. You're quite the family historian.

  8. I started early, I think. At about 4 I saw a photo in a magazine of a girl with lovely fat braids. I pestered my mom mercilessly until she braided my hair--while thick, it was fine-textured and the braids weren't exactly like the photo. I was crushed. Poor Mom!

    And have you ever noticed the mobility of hairstylists? You find someone who actually understands your hair and (diplomatically) can steer you to flattering styles--and then, poof! they've moved away. Then comes the search to find someone else and pray you don't have to invest in yet another hat!

  9. Oh yes I hate that FChurch! it's so traumatic to switch, though I've had to make several over the past few years and it's come out ok.

    I did wear French braids for years--loved them. But probably way past the moment when grown ups should be braiding their hair:)

  10. Hallie! Thank you so much for being part of Me, My Hair and I and for this wonderful spread. I had no idea what would happen to our anthology, but with your contribution, this great intro to the book, and your photos OMG), I'm getting an idea. Thanks to everyone who posted comments, too. We're doing 2 events in NYC this week, Cambridge MA on Oct. 5 and Wash DC Oct. 13. Check out the sched. on my blog: http://ElizabethBenedict.blogspot. And the book is officially for sale today, an original paperback, and an ebook. #LoveYourHair

  11. Michele, I have my sister Delia to thank for making sure I got a cross section of pictures of me after my dad died. Breck girl! Hand up if you get the reference! Michele you DO have Breck Girl hair.

  12. FChurch that's why I try to go to the person who OWNS the salon. Less likely to abandon you.

    I aspired to French braids but never could figure out how to do them. I'm impressed, Lucy!

  13. Thank YOU, liz - see you at Porter Square books on Monday!

  14. I cut my own hair until I was around thirty and the first walk-in cheapo places appeared (I think in Maryland it was the "Cuttery.") I also used a hair dryer, rollers and scotch tape, with bobby pins for pincurls -- but I never owned any "products." I thank my "naturally curly hair" for covering up my ineptitude.

    In high school there was a girl who did our hair in her kitchen -- lots of hair spray -- generally we all ended up with the same "do" -- very much like a helmet.

    I did aspire to look like the Breck girls -- those were my favorite ads ever (along with the tobacco ads where you could enter to win a horse).

    In the last decade or so, I have been pampered by having my own favorite stylist and a few expensive products -- and it makes a difference!!!

    I am getting a few copies of this book -- one for my sister who had "fly-away" hair as a kid and one for my pastor who says that since she became an Episcopal priest hardly a day goes by that someone does not mention her hair (generally in a critical tone!!).

    Thanks for this.

  15. Denise Ann - I had a friend who actually posed for one of those Breck ads. A good Catholic girl, because of course Breck girls were shiksas, something else I aspired to be.

    I've just discovered "product" as they call it in my hair salon.And it really does make my hair feel great. Though it looks about the same.

  16. Oh, I was right in the middle of the 80s perm-frizz, big hair fad. My hair is very fine with no natural wave (that changed after I had kids, but as a teen it was poker-straight). I wanted big hair in the worst way. Paid $80 (saved my babysitting money) for a professional perm to get those springy curls. I did everything I was supposed to do. Washed it two days later - total frizz, no curl at all. I was crushed. Went back to the salon to have it fixed and it did it again. So, no curls or big hair for me. I did have the Flock of Seagulls wing of bangs though. Shellacked in place with Aqua Net, of course.

    Like Edith, I cut pictures out of Seventeen. No one particular person, but no, my cuts never turned out like those glossy pictures.

    I also hear you on the mobility of hair stylists. Found one years ago, she retired. Found another one. The day before my appointment, the salon calls: "Did you reschedule your appointment?" When I ask why, I find out my stylist has - yep - retired. Now another woman at my taekwondo school (a stylist) does my hair. Costs half as much as I was paying at the salon and she comes to my house. Probably not the most chic cut out there, but hey, as long as the bangs stay out of my face, I'm good.

  17. My mom was a beautician. She decided on my hairstyle, and whatever torture was needed to produce it until the day I rebelled in classic "Mother, please, I'd rather do it myself" fashion. I was already in high school by then! Since it was the sixties, the no style, no make up look was easy to adopt. I didn't go to hairdressers, but if I had, it would have been a photo of any one of any number of female folk singers I'd have shown, maybe Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary. Things haven't changed much since, but now I can get away with calling this look "eccentric" old lady from the backwoods of Maine.

  18. Marlo Thomas. ABSOLUTELY.

    We always want what we cannot have, that's the rule of hair.

  19. LOL, Mary Sutton: Flock of Seagulls wing of bangs! I remember that.
    Kathy Lynn, you rmentioning Mary of PP&M reminded me of Cher, of course, and that swan neck thing they did with that brought their silky, straight-straight hair forward.

    Curling iron burns, anyone?

  20. Curling iron burns! My mother thought I was going to permanently scar my ears, I burned them so badly (I really, REALLY wanted curls).

  21. You've got it, Hank, The Rule of Hair. In my case it was wanting wavy hair to be straight--as in "as a board." I had the layered shag and I did literally iron my hair on the ironing board. I don't remember a specific person I wanted to emulate, but this was high school in the late sixties and it was the cool thing. Then I went boy/short. And then, in the eighties, the God Awful Frizzy Perm. Short perm. I hated it from day one, but, geez, those things were hard to grow out. Short again, because by this time I had the Hairdresser from Hell. He was Austrian and he only like REALLY SHORT HAIR. Problems was his wife was my daughter's headmistress and I didn't want to make waves (excuse the pun.) When I sold my first book I rebelled (in many ways) but one of them was letting my hair grow into a chin length bob. I loved it and kept it that way until a few years ago when I started to go gray at the temples. (Kaye, I envy you your silver hair!) So now it's layered and highlighted, but I'm still at the mercy of those waves. The electric flat iron is, in my opinion, one of the world's greatest inventions.

    Hallie, love the book, and the pics. Going to buy it now!

  22. I have two notes to add on the topic of hair. First, my sister and I were grown women before, in conversation one day, we both came to the dawning realization that we would not, in fact, go cross-eyed if our bangs hung into our eyes. Because that was my mother's favorite reprise as we were growing up!

    Also, on the mobility of hair dressers: in Columbus, Ohio, the two top salons both have very strong non-compete clauses in their contracts with the stylists. So if your stylist leaves, you are reassigned to another stylist and never hear of your old one again. If they find you HAVE gone to your old stylist in the first two years thereafter, they aggressively sue the stylist for breach of contract. I had been through this drill a few times, until one time when a young lady who had been doing my hair told me she was leaving. Then she leaned in secretively and whispered, "I can tell you where John went." (John was the wonderful stylist I had seen before her.) She surreptitiously slipped me an address, I sought him out, and John has remained my stylist for over ten years since then. But it still makes me giggle when I think of the furtiveness of that exchange!

  23. This is a fun blog! Can't wait to read the book, Hallie; wishing you all the best with it.

    Yes, the Rule of Hair. You'd never know that mine is actually very curly and frizzy at the slightest hint of moisture or humidity, would you? And it's very fine, but thick (I am grateful for that part), so when it frizzes up it's quite the clown look. But fortunately, my natural color is still deep brown with silver "highlights", so I've never caved to the tyranny of dyeing. Too lazy, for one thing. Too cheap, for another.

    The only time I really took a photo in to duplicate was when the Dorothy Hamill cut came out. It was very pretty, but a lot of work, especially for someone with zero blow-dry skills. Then I had my lightbulb moment of "hair styling, not plastic surgery" when I had my hair cut like Jaclyn Smith. I realized no haircut, ever, would turn me into her. Damn it. :-)

    Having three daughters, all with very different hair, was another eye opener. I wish I had a nickel for every time I French braided someone's hair, too. I could afford a new car, probably.

    Did anyone else ever wear a fall or a switch? In the 70's they were all the rage. I still have one that I bought at a department store, that was custom blended to match my own hair color. I guess today's equivalent would be hair extensions.

  24. I always wished I had the kind of curls my cousin had. Big fat bouncy curls. She wanted stick straight hair like my sis. I had naturally wavy hair. That you couldn't do much of anything with. Of course, in the 60s we all ironed our hair. Even my sis. :)
    My mom and my aunt always cut my hair. I've been to a salon 2 or 3 times. Now it starts bugging me and I whack at it myself.
    I can think of three times I asked for a cut. Twiggy, Joey Heatherton, and (after I let my hair grow) Farrah. The hair was like theirs, I was not. :D

  25. I have lucked out. My best friend for years is a hairdresser and has been doing my hair since she was in beauty school. She does wonderful color and knows I own no hair products, curling iron, or blow dryer and cuts my hair to fit my ineptitude. However, as someone who is always willing to be a quinea pig, I have had my share of bad hair. The time we tried to bleach it and go blonde, ran out of bleach, and threw a red color on only to have it go day glo orange stands out. So does the time I had a very short pixie, one of her stylist friends decided we would go bright red, but he tried to do loose waves by using a large perm roller. I seriously looked like Ronald McDonald. Fortunately, hair always grows out.

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  27. Worst hair-day ever ( so far...) And it was all about star emulation, though it was not my idea.

    I had great brown long hair, nice and wavy ,all one length. I was maybe --22.
    Of course, I wasn't satisfied.

    So I go to the hairdresser--sidenote: NEVER get a haircut if you are in a bad mood.

    Anyway, the guy says-there's this new actress...Have you ever heard of Farrah Fawcett?


    My hair was wacky for YEARS after that.

  28. Fun blog! Hair has always been the bane of my existence. It was curly in an era of long and straight (did anyone every actually drink the contents of all the Awake Orange Juice cans sold in the 1960s 1970s?). Then it went straight on me, just when curly became cool. I wanted Jean Shrimpton hair, or at least Twiggie! Sigh, no such luck. Of course, I also wanted to be Jane Asher. That didn't work out either.

  29. Sara, you cracked me up. I'll bet even Ronald MacDonald doesn't want to look like Ronald MacDonald.

    FARRAH FAWCETT hair - what a nightmare! Hank, you've got the hair for it. But all that layering -- takes forever for the shortest layer to grow out. And the amount of time you needed to blow dry it? I do not have that kind of attention span ... at least not for hair.

    Jean Shrimpton and Twiggie, sigh.

  30. after years of driving around my daughters and their friends, I realized that no one, ever, likes her hair in its natural state (straight, wavy, curly). Scarred for life with a pixie cut and the home perms always administered the week before school started.

  31. Oh Margaret, I had the pixie cut too, when what I really wanted was what the popular girl Brooke had--a straight bob that tapered lower in front. My mother nixed that. My sister and I used to share a Toni permanent kit LOL. boy did that stuff smell bad!

  32. Ah the perm smell. It surprises me no one's made a rotten-egg perfume to take us back to our youths.

  33. Don't you think Farrah Fawcett, god rest her soul, was responsible for more haircut remorse than any other single person in the history of the world?

    Hallie, this is a great post and I look forward to buying this book. Talk about the social commentary of our age.

    My hair is thick, some wave, not particularly frizzy. When the silver started creeping in a decade ago I opted not to start down the hair-color road and now it is more salt than pepper. That is okay with me.

    P.S., Lucy, that deeply unkind comment is why he is an ex-boyfriend. Smart girl, you.

  34. I thought I had straight hair when I was a little girl, because my mother, my grandmother, and then my dearest Auntie-Mom spent hours, painful hours, curling it. When I was old enough to take care of my own hair, "The Aunts" as my cousin Lindsay and I called them, gave me a blow dryer, a curling iron, and a bunch of big rollers that you had to steam somehow... I forget. Whenever my hair got too long for family comfort someone would give me money if I would have my haircut. I liked that arrangement, so I was careful not to have it cut too short, thereby assuring regular income for cokes, fries, and tight Levi's.

    Then... I left home for California. I let my hair grow out. I was waiting for it to grow long and straight. It took a long, long time to grow out! I had no idea. At first, my growing hair was very wavy. Then it started to curl. It got very curly. Two dreads formed, one at each side of my neck. I thought something was wrong with me!

    Two years later I was still waiting for my curls to settle down and straighten out. I called Lindsay back in Boston, and she broke me the news. I had very curly hair. My mother, grandmother, then "The Aunts" curled, or rolled it on big juice cans, and later blew it dry and tamed it with a curling iron, to make it straight! I had no idea my hair was curly.

    I just stopped blow drying my hair. I no longer fight my inheritance. Friends comment on my curls. I tell them it is just my unadulterated hair. They smile.

  35. I didn't really get my hair cut much until I was in second grade. Before that, my mother would braid my hair into two pigtails every day. I think the reason the I got my hair cut might have had something to do with my mother being tired of the daily braiding. Of course, it might have had to do with my pigtails dipping down into the mud pies my friend Phoebe and I made. Hahaha! It wasn't a short, short cut, but when curled under it was about chin length, maybe a little longer. With my hair being thick, there was still a lot of hair. I pretty much played with growing it out and then cutting it a bit, until junior high when it stayed long until college.

    I didn't really try to model my hair after anyone famous until I was in college. Then I started looking at pictures of how other people, famous people did their hair. I never wanted a very fussy do.

    My funniest pictures of hairdos are for dances in junior high and high school. It was usually the fashion to put your hair up into some kind of bun. My sister decided that I needed the bun look for my first dance in seventh grade, which would have been fine except that I was already way taller than my date with my hair down.

    Hallie, I love the pictures of your hairstyles through the years and who you were trying to copy. I hope you have them in some sort of framing arrangement.

  36. Joan Baez. That's the only picture I've ever taken to my hairdresser. In her later, short-hair years.

    Hmm, maybe I need to dig out that picture again.