Stylist and confidant to the stars Rudy Lynn succeeded in show business, but not in the way he’d planned.
Among the souvenirs of Rudy Lynn’s decades-spanning career as a hairstylist and colorist is a tattered and yellowed telegram dated January 22, 1958: “CALL ME IMMEDIATELY MUST SPEAK TO YOU EMERGENCY.” The telegram is signed Marilyn Monroe Miller—yes, that Marilyn Monroe, then married to playwright Arthur Miller and living in New York. She was one of Lynn’s many celebrity clients, and Lynn says now that the “emergency” in the telegram was a hair catastrophe that she knew only he could fix.
Today Lynn, 93, is living in a rest home in San Antonio. His speech is slurred by a stroke, but he still has vivid memories of his long and eventful career, which he recently shared with American Salon aided by his niece, Cerise Cisneros, who grew up listening to her uncle’s stories.
Lynn worked in New York during a golden age of both show business and hairdressing. While Kenneth Battelle, known simply as Kenneth, grabbed headlines as the first “celebrity stylist” for his work with, among others, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lynn was quietly turning Hollywood stars like Monroe and Bette Davis, Broadway luminaries like Shirley Winters and socialites like Mrs. William Randolph Hearst and Rose Kennedy into devotees.
He never sought publicity as a hairdresser, says Cisneros, because he originally came to New York looking for a different kind of fame. “Rudy wanted to be a singer. He was afraid that if he became known as a hairdresser, it would be harder for him to break into music,” says Cisneros. Being a hairdresser was just a way of making money, Lynn says, until he could cut his first record.
He went to work first for Florence Morris at her salon at East 60th Street and Park Avenue in about 1950. Morris was an impresario, a public relations whiz in addition to being a groundbreaking colorist who had become a sensation in the late 1940s by introducing new silver and ash blonde tones. One of the first professional color lines, La Playa, was her creation.
Lynn credits Morris with much of his success. Working at her salon, he met a young Estée Lauder. He also met future employer Rose Reti, who would go on to start her own salon and make a name for herself as one of Manhattan’s most in-demand colorists. “A good stylist never makes haircolor even,” Reti said in a 1967 newspaper interview. “There should be a variation of at least three to four shades to achieve the most natural look.” In those days, the idea was innovative.
Fittingly, Lynn’s first celebrity client was a singer. When he met Patti Page in 1950, she was opening for singer Frankie Lane at New York’s Paramount Theater. Later that year, she would release “Tennessee Waltz,” the single that would make her, at the time, the top-selling female recording artist ever. “She took to me and it started from there,” Lynn says. “I would go to the theater to do her hair.”
It was at the Paramount that Lynn gave Page a cut that was, for the day, radically short. The new style garnered Page lots of publicity, but when manager Jack Rael first caught sight of it, he was less than enthused. “He took one look at her and called me ‘Rudy the Barber,’” says Lynn. “I was ‘Rudy the Barber’ from then on.”
To everyone else he was just Rudy. “That was the name he used professionally,” says Cisneros, speculating that it was a further attempt to distance his reputation as a stylist from the pop singer persona he still hoped to create. Page discouraged him from going into the music business; there’s evidence it was less from a selfish desire to retain her stylist than a real concern for the happiness of someone she’d come to think of as a friend.
Many of his clients took to him in that way, says Cisneros. Lynn even made house calls, as illustrated in a 1958 column titled “Dictators are running America! (They’re our wives’ beauticians),” by gossip columnist Earl Wilson: “‘I’ll just have to do what Marilyn Monroe does,’ the wife’ll say. What does Marilyn do? She has Rudy bring his beauty parlor over to her.”
Lynn worked for two days in Monroe’s New York apartment readying her for the 1957 premier of The Prince and the Showgirl, a high-profile star turn with Laurence Olivier. Lynn spent one day doing her color and the next styling it for the event, which he would also attend. He recalls working with the actress in her kitchen, while she took breaks to check on the dinner she would share with him afterward. “I was so embarrassed, because the chicken wasn’t cooked!” says Lynn. Did he eat it anyway? “Of course!”
That hair emergency from the telegram wasn’t the first one Monroe had called upon Lynn to solve. The year before, the starlet had a miscarriage, which ended a well-publicized pregnancy. She called Lynn to do her hair bedside at Doctors Hospital because she knew that reporters would be waiting when she left.
Following his dream, Lynn did eventually quit hairdressing to cut his first record. “Number One Guy” appeared on the Tribute record label in 1964 and plans were made for a tour. But Lynn’s manager Eddie Heller died of a heart attack while arranging it. Cisneros says Lynn took it as a sign, and went back to hairdressing. He would work off and on into the 1970s, both at the Plaza Hotel salon and making house calls for special clients.
For someone who routinely rubbed elbows with show businesses’ biggest names, Lynn remained humble, and Cisneros says he never charged what he might have, given the buying power—and devotion—of his clientele. “I just did my work and got paid and that was OK,” says Lynn. “Even today I’m the same way: I just don’t take things that seriously.” ✂ —Karen Ford