Jim Markham Reflects on Jay Sebring and His Hollywood Life

Jay Sebring and Jim Markham

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, this summer’s blockbuster film starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio and centered on the Manson Family murders, offered a once in a lifetime experience for hairstylist Jim Markham. Before he was the owner of Color Proof Color Care and founder of Pureology, Markham was the friend, business partner and protégé of celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, who along with actress Sharon Tate was killed by the Manson Family in 1969. It made sense that Hollywood came calling when it was looking for someone who knew Sebring, and could help make the props, cutting and grooming tools, the Sebring product line, and the Sebring Hollywood salon look like the real deal. We gave Markham a ring to get the scoop.

The original Sebring salon

How did you first meet Jay Sebring?
JM:
When I started cutting hair, I was a barber in New Mexico charging $1.50 for a haircut. I’m a licensed pilot, and I had a plane, so in the late '60s, I traveled across the country, entering hair competitions and winning them. I had come across an article where Jay Sebring said he was charging $50 a haircut and named celebrity clients such as Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. I was intrigued and was bold enough to reach out to him to tell him that I wanted to distribute his product. I also proposed a challenge to see whose technique was better. If my cutting technique was better than his, then we could use mine. He said, “Why don’t you come out to California and we’ll see?” So, I flew my plane to Los Angeles, where I met Jay. I cut one half of [his client] Van Johnson’s hair, and he cut the other. It was obvious straight away that his shear technique was better— Jay’s technique cut and shaped hair to the frame of the face, which was critical and still is revolutionary today. We went on to work together—I opened the first Sebring franchise in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then Sebring Certified Shops all over the United States.

How did you end up taking over the Sebring business?
JM:
When Jay was killed in the Manson murders, I immediately knew that I would be taking over. He had trained me on his cutting techniques and mentored me. I had personally set up all of Sebring’s education programs and was teaching his technique throughout my territories with great success. He had always told me, if anything ever happens to me, you’ve got to take over because you’re the only one who knows how to do this. Following his death, I moved to California, took over the company, and I began cutting many of his celebrity clients’ hair while continuing to expand my own client roster, which included Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Johnny Carson, to name a few.

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Paul Newman was one of Jay Sebring's and Jim Markham's clients

What was it like consulting on Quentin Tarantino’s film?
JM: It was incredibly exciting. What began as a few telephone conversations with Tarantino’s set decorating team, eventually led to a meeting at my home. The set decorators came over and spent a whole day going through my archives. They took pictures of everything. I gave them a client book of the celebrities Jay and I had back then—in ’69, we had approximately 500 of the top celebrities in the world. They reproduced the salon for the film to look exactly the way it did back then. I was also able to provide them with some of the original Sebring products, shears and brushes similar to those used during that era and Sebring branded materials such as matchbooks and pens. Hopefully, I was able to fill in some of the holes to make the film look as authentic as possible.  

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood"

What was life for you like once you took the helm?
JM: It was very exciting. Once in California, I had purchased Jay’s black Porsche from his father, I was running the salon and the company, while styling Jay’s former celebrity clients. I took over his membership at The Candy Store, a private club, and even dated some of his girlfriends [Laughs]. It was the most exciting time of my life, but also one of the scariest times, that is until they caught Manson.

What was a day in the life there?
JM:
The salon was always bustling. Phones were ringing off the hook, and there were always celebrities coming and going. The main salon was downstairs, and upstairs was my office. The downstairs salon was where most the action took place with two manicurists, two shoeshine guys, and a parking attendant to bring up the client cars. I mostly worked upstairs where I had a private area where I could cut and style my clients and give them some privacy away from the hustle and bustle.

The Hollywood replication of the Sebring salon

How is men’s styling different and the same today?
JM:
I always say the perfect haircut for a man is one that looks like he doesn’t have one and he doesn’t need one. When I started cutting hair, conservative men wore their hair shorter on the sides and back and a little longer on top. They used Brylcreem or pomade to set their style and seldom washed their hair. During the same time, the alternative set was wearing their hair long and was afraid to cut it. We changed the way men viewed haircuts by cutting shape into hair. We knew how to keep hair long but give it shape for the hippie set and convert the conservative man to daily shampooing while cutting and styling hair in the pattern in which it grows. Both ideas were revolutionary. Today, men are cutting hair razor sharp on the sides with no sideburns, however, we see this trend shifting to where they want to leave more hair on the sides and shorter on the top to frame the face. Many stylists are expressing interest in doing the seventies way of cutting. At Color Proof, we’re featuring a class that will teach the Markham/Sebring scissor-over-comb technique so stylists can confidently learn to cut and style their male clientele to be at the forefront of the trend.

 

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