Paul Huntley, hair master of Broadway and Hollywood, is dead at 88
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Paul Huntley, hair master of Broadway and Hollywood, is dead at 88
Some of the wigs Paul Huntley designed for “Thoroughly Modern Millie, in New York on March 19, 2002. Huntley, the hair stylist and wig designer who gave Carol Channing her expansive bouffant in “Hello, Dolly!,” Alan Cumming his plastered curl in “Cabaret” and Sutton Foster her golden bob in “Anything Goes,” died on Friday, July 13, 2021 in London. He was 88. His death was confirmed by a friend, Liz Carboni, who said he had been hospitalized for a lung infection. Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

by Robin Pogrebin

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Paul Huntley, the hair stylist and wig designer who gave Carol Channing her expansive bouffant in “Hello, Dolly!,” Alan Cumming his plastered curl in “Cabaret” and Sutton Foster her golden bob in “Anything Goes,” died Friday in London. He was 88.

His death was confirmed by a friend, Liz Carboni, who said he had been hospitalized for a lung infection.

Huntley left New York for London, his native city, in February, and made clear in an interview with The New York Times that his work on “Diana: The Musical,” which is to begin performances on Broadway in November, would be his last. The pandemic, he said, had dried up opportunities, and his fractured hip was hurting.

In a 60-year career, Huntley styled hair and created wigs for more than 200 shows, including “The Elephant Man,” “Chicago” and “Cats.” He was so respected that Betty Buckley, Jessica Lange and others had contracts specifying that he would do their hair.

“He put wigs on my head for every show except ‘Les Miz’ in London. He was the master,” actress Patti LuPone said. “When I put on a Paul Huntley wig, I never felt anything but my character.”

Costume designer William Ivey Long called him “by far the premier hair designer on the planet, hands down.”

Huntley’s output was prodigious, and he typically worked on several shows at once. In 2014 alone, he turned out 48 wigs for “Bullets Over Broadway” and more than 60 wigs and facial pieces for the Shakespeare Theater Company’s two-part “Henry IV” in Washington.

In 2002, when he designed the hair for the Broadway musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” he also worked on “Morning’s at Seven,” “Hairspray” and the off-Broadway comedy “Helen.”

For the show “Diana” — a version of which, filmed without an audience during the pandemic, is scheduled to premiere on Netflix on Oct. 1 — he created four wigs for actress Jeanna de Waal to portray the style of the Princess of Wales changed over time, from mousy ingenuousness to windswept sophistication.

Paul Huntley was born on July 2, 1933, in Greater London, one of five children of a military man and a homemaker. He was fascinated at an early age by his mother’s movie magazines. After leaving school, he tried to find an apprenticeship in the film industry, but the flooded post-World War II job market had no space for him, so he enrolled at an acting school in London.

He ended up helping with hair design for school productions and in the 1950s, after two years of military service, became an apprentice at Wig Creations, a large London theatrical company. He went on to become the main designer, working with the likes of Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich and Laurence Olivier.

Huntley helped construct the signature braids worn by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 movie “Cleopatra.” Taylor introduced him to director Mike Nichols, who a decade later enlisted Huntley to do hair for his Broadway production of “Uncle Vanya” at Circle in the Square. He eventually became the go-to designer for plays and musicals, including “The Real Thing,” “The Heidi Chronicles” and “Crazy for You.”

Huntley would return to a show periodically to make sure standards were maintained. He described himself as “the hair police.’‘

Tony Awards are not given for hair design, but Huntley was given a special Tony in 2003.

“Everybody says, ‘I want Paul Huntley,’” Emanuel Azenberg, the Broadway producer, once told The Times. “He makes the hair organic to the show. It’s not about him.”

Huntley approached hair not just as a decorative element but as the expression of an era or of changes in society, and as integral to character development. For “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” he sought to evoke New York City in 1922, his bangs, spit curls and finger waves informed by a post-World War I sense of release.

He also worked on about 60 films, among them “The Addams Family” (1991); the 1996 live-action “101 Dalmatians”; the 2013 HBO biopic “Phil Spector,” starring Al Pacino; and “Synecdoche, New York” (2008).

He returned to some projects more than once, among them “Tootsie” (both the 1982 Dustin Hoffman film and the 2019 Broadway musical adaptation starring Santino Fontana) and “Hello, Dolly!” (in 1978 and 1995, both times starring Carol Channing).

As Broadway shows became more technologically advanced, Huntley evolved along with them, building fuller, taller wigs to accommodate mic packs and adding highlights to make synthetic hair more vibrant.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 50 years,” he said in a 2002 interview with The Times. “I still get joy from it.”

In January Huntley sold his Upper West Side town house, which also served as his work studio, piled high with wig blocks, curlers and bins with labels like “Hair From England.” He had shared the home with Paul Plassan, his partner of 21 years, who had helped Huntley run his business and died in 1991.

No immediate family members survive.

Huntley ordered hair — sold by weight and length — from England, where it had been harvested from asylums, prisons and morgues. Since long hair was the most versatile, Huntley stocked no locks less than 10 inches and usually worked with 20-inch lengths.

He knew well the more than 50 shades of red and 100 shades of blond, and he knew that white hair was the rarest and most expensive, because older people with that shade tend to keep it short.

Elegant in a pinkie ring and often a black turtleneck, Huntley was direct but also diplomatic, which enabled him to navigate strong personalities and fragile egos. He was unflappable when faced with diva behavior and reassuring to the insecure. Part therapist and part stylist, Huntley was happy to play any number of roles.

He also made a wig every month for free for chemotherapy patients who had lost their hair, his friend James M. Kabel said. When one recipient asked what she owed him, Kabel recalled, he said: “What do I owe you? Just get well.” The woman had a plaque with Huntley’s name installed on a park bench at 82nd Street and Riverside Drive in Manhattan.

“The most important thing is to give comfort to people and make them feel secure,” Huntley told The Times in 2002. “Generally people are enhanced, made more beautiful.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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