Patti LuPone’s second act wig for the 1979 Broadway production of Evita is a subtle testament to the skill of its creator, Paul Huntley. Unlike the generic brunette and big red LuPone wore in Eva’s first act, this one is specific to historic La Perón images: bleached blonde, combed tight, twisted into a braid wrapped in a bun above the hairline. neck. This is the character – a future self-created queen – projecting both the greatest Parisian fashion and, through that scraped hairline, a false humility of the people.
Huntley, who died aged 88, collaborated with LuPone on it – the bun is smaller, worn higher than Eva’s, to flatter the actor – as he has done with all the main roles that ‘he has appeared in over 200 Broadway and West End shows, and numerous screen and TV movies. He read the scripts, listened to the director and the costume designer, and even the choreographer, swapping synthetic, which he didn’t like, for a 1920s bob for Thoroughly Modern Millie (on Broadway in 2002) because only false hair swayed after a tap. routine.
Huntley believed in the power of transformation from the outside to the inside, assuring customers that they could sit in front of the mirrors in their walk-in closet, don a mesh beanie to fit their skull, hand-tied with thousands of strands of human hair and baked with style, and transmute into another person.
LuPone was among those who trusted him. When she was at the Juilliard School in New York City, she begged him to create an easy-to-fix wig for student shows to provide a reliable glamor her very fine hair couldn’t; she paid in installments, then listed her services in her performance contracts, and kept each wig.
Huntley didn’t play any favorites, however. LuPone and Glenn Close both requested it for their Norma Desmonds on Sunset Boulevard (in London and New York, respectively), and Close became a regular afterwards, including her black and white hairdressers like Cruella de Vil in 101. Dalmatians (1996).
In 2003, Huntley received a Special Tony Award for decades of work – entire shows, especially Hairspray, which opened in 2002, and Bullets over Broadway, in 2014, riffle the cartoonish energy of their Huntley wigs; Hairspray’s over 100 designs were both sets and costumes, as voluminous as the almond swirls he made for singer Dusty Springfield.
He himself tied the threads and as many others as he had time; its small workshop staff were supplemented by extras to provide several productions each year. Huntley was never bored with the absorbing craftsmanship of making his imaginative ideas come true: the crazy orange buns above Ms. Lovett’s ears from Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd’s original Broadway production in 1979; Carol Channing’s strawberry whipped cream filling in the 1978 cover of Hello Dolly; The hippie mustaches of Stacy Keach as Falstaff in Henry IV of the Shakespeare Theater Company in Washington in 2014.
Dustin Hoffman’s’ 80s permanent wig in Tootsie (1982) took months of experimentation. The failed Hoffman actor treats the object with affection onscreen, as if he is “Dorothy”, his other, feminine, himself.
Nothing fazed Huntley, including the shifting dimensions of the mic packs under or in the wig, terrifying male and female divas (he had knelt down on a hotel bed to pin Mae West’s locks in situ) or absurd controls, such as the frizz aura around Al Pacino as Phil Spector in a 2013 TV movie. Hunter’s Pet Project was Cats’ original Broadway production in 1982, Every Feline wildly, differently, styled in dyed yak hair for maximum volume with shine.
Empathy with the characters and sympathy for the actors led him to embark on the business. Huntley was born in London. His father was a regular soldier, his mother a movie buff; he looked at her delighted as she was given a makeover with a brush and comb. In one of his weekly movie magazines, he read an article about Hollywood’s Westmore dynasty, whose members dominated the hairstyle and makeup of silent films until the 1950s.
After the postwar national service, Huntley unsuccessfully attempted an apprenticeship in the studio, going instead to the Central School of Speech and Drama, then performed in touring and performance companies, where he also maintained the wigs. .
Stanley Hall’s wig designs in London gave him a job in the late 1950s. Hall had transferred to the theater advanced techniques for film close-ups by the Westmores, replacing traditional heavy fabric bases with lace. invisible, knotting simple strands along the hairline, for a ruthless naturalness that nature could not reliably replicate for nine shows a week.
Huntley was soon Hall’s principal designer, working on Marlene Dietrich’s 14 darlings sent to London for styling and arranging the massed wigdoms of Egypt and Rome for the 1963 movie Cleopatra. On set, Elizabeth Taylor gave him asked to help his friend director Mike Nichols, then a stage comedian wearing ugly wigs to hide the hairlessness following a childhood illness. Hunter gave her witty eyebrows and a wig; Nichols inspired Huntley to move to New York City, sponsored his US visa, and in 1973 he began his Broadway career with Uncle Vanya, one of his wigs being for former silent movie star Lillian Gish. Huntley’s Westmore dream has come true.
Work was abundant for Huntley from that point on, supporting his Manhattan home and studio, until Covid-19 closed Broadway last year. Huntley was getting ready for the stage show Diana: A True Musical Story – he had decided to tell the story of the princess in four wigs, a pudding-basin podge cut to the tips of Sam McKnight – when he fell downstairs, wig in hand, and broke his pelvis. He announced his retirement, sold and returned to the UK, where he died at the Denville Hall showbiz nursing home in Northwood, North West London.
Huntley’s partner Paul Plassan, who helped Huntley turn his talent into a business, died in 1991.