Sydney Guilaroff (November 2, 1907 – May 25, 1997) was a hair stylist during Hollywood's Golden Age who was the first to receive on-screen credit in films. He worked for more than 40 years at the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios on more than 1,000 films. He was instrumental in crafting many of the hairstyles that became the signature looks for numerous film stars.
Guilaroff was born in London, England to Russian Jewish immigrants who later settled in Canada. The family lived in both the cities of Winnipeg and Montreal. At age 14, Guilaroff left Canada for New York City and found work in the stockroom of Gimbels department store. An on-the-job accident caused him to leave, and at times his financial situation forced him to sleep on benches in the city's Central Park.
His fortunes changed when he was hired as a beautician's assistant. His menial responsibilities included sweeping the floor of a hair salon. The owner recognized the teenager's energy and enterprise, and proceeded to mentor him in the hairdressing trade. By the age of 16, Guilaroff had become so proficient a hair stylist that he had established a considerable clientele. His blossoming career, however, was interrupted by a diagnosis of tuberculosis, which required his return to Canada. He recovered and returned to New York to continue his profession as hairdresser. It was during this period that Guilaroff is reputed to have created silent screen star Louise Brooks' signature bob. He also devised the hair looks for actresses Corinne Griffith and Miriam Hopkins. He ultimately found a position at Antoine’s, one of the city's most exclusive salons, where he was known as Mr. Sydney.
Career with Metro Goldwyn Mayer
The guiding force in Guilaroff’s rise to prominence as hairdresser to the stars was effectuated by actress Joan Crawford. Crawford brought Guilaroff to Hollywood and MGM where he held the position of chief hair stylist from 1934 into the late 1970s.
At a time when a star’s screen appearance was a significant function of the studio’s image machine, Guilaroff’s skills crafted distinctive looks, which came to be identifiable with the stars for which they were conceived. He was recognized as a master in his profession with an instinctive, creative eye.
- “…[Guilaroff] gave Claudette Colbert her bangs, made Lucille Ball a redhead, gave Judy Garland her Wizard of Oz braids, and cut, curled, coiffed and cosseted virtually every other MGM star in his 40-year reign as Hollywood’s most creative and celebrated hairdresser.”
Guilaroff maintained his most formidable undertaking had been his work for the 1938 film Marie Antoinette, for which 2,000 court wigs were required and an additional 3,000 wigs for the extra players. He was uncredited as hair stylist for Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind (1939).
When Lena Horne filmed her introductions to her scenes in the MGM musical documentary That's Entertainment! III (1994), she requested that Guilaroff come out of retirement to style her hair, some 50 years after he first styled it in Cabin in the Sky (1943).
Over his long and distinguished career, Guilaroff's clients included Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Greta Garbo, Lena Horne, Greer Garson, Debbie Reynolds, Ann-Margret, Barbara Stanwyck, Cyd Charisse, Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Hedy Lamarr, Kathryn Grayson, Liza Minnelli, Clare Booth Luce, Ginger Rogers, Debbie Reynolds, Geraldine Page, Libby Holman, and Nancy Reagan. He was the stylist of choice for such male stars as Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra.
Guilaroff never married. In 1938, he became the first single man in the United States to adopt a son whom he named Jon in honor of Joan Crawford. The adoption was opposed by the state of California, which took legal means to prevent the adoption. Guilaroff, however, ultimately prevailed and subsequently adopted another son and some years later a third son, who had been a former employee.
Guilaroff died in Beverly Hills, California on May 25, 1997 at age 89.
- "Sydney Guillaroff biography," retrieved November 21, 2012
- Sydney Guilaroff Dies at 89, Washington Post, June 2, 1997; retrieved Oct. 8 2017
- Thomas Jr., Robert McG., Movies, “Sydney Guilaroff, 89, Stylist to Stars, Is Dead”. June 1, 1997, retrieved November 21, 2012
- "Famous GLTB - Sydney Guilaroff," retrieved November 21, 2012
- Sydney Guilaroff Credits on IMDb
- Du Barry Was a Lady (1943) Trivia at IMDb
- IndieWire - On the Set With Lena Horne by Leonard Maltin, May 10, 2010; retrieved Oct. 8, 2017
- Sydney Guilaroff - Awards at IMDb, retrieved Oct. 8, 2017
- Vallance, Tom, Obituary, Sidney Guilaroff, May 31, 1997