[Grab a coffee and settle in, this is a LONG one!]
On Vanities' web page: "My Story" you got a quick view of my experiences in the beauty industry. Now let's delve deeper. I can honestly say, over the course of my 30-year career, I've done "everything" in this industry: I've "done" hair, I've "done" nails, I've sold and promoted skin care, I've worked with celebrities, I've traveled far and wide for educational and unique opportunities. I'd like to share that with you here.
As we said before, I started Cosmetology school while I was still in high school and was graduated at the age of 18. But my experiences started even before then. My first entry into a somewhat professional world of beauty was at Barbizon Modeling Academy in Louisville, KY - at what age? - gosh, probably 13 or so! I use the term 'professional' at this stage to mean an experience different from when I was rolling my own hair at age 3, or putting makeup on a doll. I was now with actual people who made money from beauty.
Barbizon was an interesting experience. I remember we were shuttled to Louisville to attend classes. Barbizon was in a mall, so we'd have our makeup lessons: black kohl eyeliner, red lips, the works! --- and then we'd break for lunch. So here we were, these prepubescent girls all tarted up clicking our high heels through the mall headed for our burgers and fries! What a sight we must have been! I think I still have my book of "poses"!
After my "Big City" exposure I was ready to take on the world. I joined another modeling agency in Lexington: Vogue Modeling. I took classes there and then eventually TAUGHT hair and makeup classes there, too! (I tried to tone down the makeup for those girls!)
At 5'6", success at modeling was not in my future, but the glamour and beauty aspect had me hooked!
We can skip through high school/cosmetology school/my apprenticeship as a Lexington hairdresser and move on to my wealth of L.A. experiences.
When I finally got to L.A. at the ripe old age of 19, I had, while laying in my small town bed, imagined things would go something like this: get off a plane, be swept up to be the makeup artist for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot in Bali or some other equally exotic locale and be the makeup genius for all the supermodels of the day! Well, it didn't go exactly like that!
For starters, I drove out there! When I "landed" it was nothing like I had imagined. In fact, I called my Mom from a street-side pay phone and said, "Give me 50-hours, I'm coming HOME!" She encouraged me to stick with it (even though I now know she was petrified for me being out there all alone). But I needed to do this, and she supported me all the way. (Thanks, Mom!)
Finding a place to live was a bit hairy, but once I settled into my first location (one of many), I could relax and explore this Hollywood that I had been reading about and dreaming about for so many years. I was lucky in many respects. Walking along the über-famous Sunset Boulevard, I stopped into one of the celebrity haunts I had read about and struck up a conversation with the girl working there. We became fast friends and began hanging out together at yet another celebrity hangout, The Rainbow Bar & Grill. This was the mid-80's, 1984 to be specific. This was the decade of the "Hair Band". Poison was just getting their first bite of fame. Quiet Riot were well on their way with the release of their first album, and hot single, "Cum on feel the noise". I had met them while still living in Lexington and Kathy, the shop-girl I met, knew them personally! A stroke of luck meeting her on one of my first days in L.A.!
While at the Rainbow I not only got to know many rock-gods, but found employment, as well. While sitting at one of the crescent-shaped tables, the lady next to me started talking to me and asked what I did. I told her I was a hairdresser (which I was then, as I didn't know that Esthetics was where my path would lead me to just yet). She then told me that she was also a hairdresser and she owned a salon in BEVERLY HILLS! Not only that, but she wanted to HIRE me!!! All I needed to do was bring in a model and do a haircut on them, and the job was mine. "Wow, that was EASY."
I worked with her - Tina Cassaday - of Tina Cassaday Creations in Beverly Hills, for quite some time, learning all I could from an expert and magnificent entrepreneur. Because of her standing in BH, she had a multitude of celebrity clients, which now, I could also work with! Janet Leigh would come into the salon on a regular basis. My opinion of her? She was a LADY in every sense of the word. A total class-act. Very nice, not a hint of snobbery, and funny! An amazing woman. Tina and I would drive her Porsche (of course) down Sunset to the Malibu Colony - the most chic-chic place in Malibu --- an already posh locale --- to do Mr. Michael Landon's hair in his mansion. I'd like to call it a home, but, come on! He was not like Janet Leigh. In fact, he never spoke! Even more revealing, neither did we! As per his ORDERS, we were not allowed to speak to him, nor were we really allowed to speak to each other! He sat there watching his own show, "Stairway to Heaven" while we (very quietly) covered the gray in his hair. That was one of Tina's specialties - using so many different colors to foil the hair keeping a really natural look. Tina's other specialty was her own line of hair care products. One fond memory is of us at her (also very nice) house filling the bottles by her POOL! She would receive her product in these huge vats and we would siphon the liquids into the 8 oz bottles that she would sell at her salon. (Yes, that's how it's done sometimes. An insiders tip.)
I worked in other salons, all with some celebrity clients. At Batia and Aleeza, I worked with the Esthetician named Ziva (and here I am plain little ole Nancy from Kentucky!). We saw Tracey Ullman while she was pregnant (she is a doll), and Katey Sagal from "Married with Children" for her facial waxing. (Yes, she had a beard! Can I say that here? hee-hee-hee). And someone you'd have to be my age to remember, Dale Bozzio from the band "Missing Persons". How's that for an 80's reference?!!! Think Lady Gaga, just a couple of decades ago!
My work experience in L.A. was extraordinary, but so were my educational opportunities. This is the HUB of the beauty industry, as you know. I learned how to do the perfect eyebrow from Mr. Michael Westmore. No, I don't expect you to know his name, but Google it and you will find that he is from a legendary family of Hollywood makeup artists. I took classes from Victoria Jackson, who was a well-known Hollywood makeup artist, and then went on to brand herself and make her way to the TV infomercial ... and a fortune of millions of dollars!
Some of the best trade shows are in Los Angeles, too. Way before it was mainstream, I learned Reflexology in class there. I got a sneak peek into the true workings of the industry: which products were being sold to which companies, where to get the best makeup brushes, and techniques that only a true insider would have access to. I was finally behind the scenes and I loved it!
On an ironic side note, the brand and company I did business with for 17+ years of my career in Lexington, had launched their business between 1983 and 1986, but we never crossed paths. It makes me wonder now how my course might have changed if we had met then instead of in the 90's.
Moving to L.A. really was a dream come true. Did things go as I had planned as a teenager yearning to break free from small town life? No. But what did evolve was AMAZING ... Magical actually. I don't think I could recreate it if I tried.
Now I'd like to give those of you who are getting out of high school or college and wondering what to do next some advice. In life, sometimes you only get ONE big opportunity. TAKE IT!
Why did I arrive in Hollywood alone you may wonder? It is because my friend, the very talented drummer Rob, chickened out on going. And of my colleagues from Barbizon, what happened to them? One girl was tall enough and pretty enough and looked like a cross between Brooke Shields and Cindy Crawford. She was also from a small town like me, and she was offered to move to, I think, Chicago to sign with a legitimate modeling agency there --- or it could have been New York. Did she jump at this potentially golden opportunity? Nope. She had a boyfriend she didn't want to leave behind! So where is she now? Happily married to this marvelous young man? Nope. She still lives in the same small town. Divorced. Single mom. Still doing hair. She may be happy and feel successful. But "what if"? What if drummer Rob had moved to L.A. with me? Maybe he would have also gotten to know drummer Frankie from Quiet Riot, and perhaps, drummer Frankie would have helped drummer Robbie get into a band and then he too could have toured the world and made millions of dollars. What if almost-model got signed in a New York agency like Ford and then she became the next Cindy Crawford and was now selling her line of exercise equipment (and every other bit of profitable merchandise)?
DON'T PASS ON YOUR BIG OPPORTUNITY!!! You may not get a second offer.
L.A. was the largest part of my life, even though all of this occurred in less than five years! I eventually decided it was time to move back home, to be with my Granny and my family and put a close to this land of fantasy. All dreams must come to an end, in order to wake up and start some new ones!
In Part Two we will continue with the Post-Hollywood years!
(And thanks for reading this far!)