Upper Cut: Highlights of My Hollywood Life

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9781439199091: Upper Cut: Highlights of My Hollywood Life
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Shampoo meets You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again in a rollicking and riveting memoir from the woman who for decades styled Hollywood's most celebrated players.

I was living a hairdresser’s dream. I was making my mark in this all-male field. My appointment book was filled with more and more celebrities. And I was becoming competition for my heroes . . .

Behind the scenes of every Hollywood photo shoot, TV appearance, and party in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, there was Carrie White. As the “First Lady of Hairdressing,” Carrie collaborated with Richard Avedon on shoots for Vogue, partied with Jim Morrison, gave Sharon Tate her California signature style, and got high with Jimi Hendrix. She has counted Jennifer Jones, Betsy Bloomingdale, Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn, and Camille Cosby among her favorite clients.

But behind the glamorous facade, Carrie’s world was in perpetual disarray and always had been. After her father abandoned the family when she was still a child, she was sexually abused by her domineering stepfather, and her alcoholic mother was unstable and unreliable. Carrie was sipping cocktails before her tenth birthday, and had had five children and three husbands before her twenty-eighth. She fueled the frenetic pace of her professional life with a steady diet of champagne and vodka, diet pills, cocaine, and heroin, until she eventually lost her home, her car, her career—and nearly her children. But she battled her way back, getting sober, rebuilding her relationships and her reputation as a hairdresser, and today, the name Carrie White is once again on the door of one of Beverly Hills’s most respected salons. An unflinching portrayal of addiction and recovery, Upper Cut proves that even in Hollywood, sometimes you have to fight for a happy ending.

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Review:

“As one of Hollywood's most sought after hairstylists, White tells a rollercoaster of hair, celebrities and surviving life in the fast lane...White's voice is captivating...and her story is an inspiring one, spiked with Hollywood gossip.” --Publishers Weekly

“White writes insightfully...an engaging, celebrity-filled life story.” —Library Journal

"Carrie White reveals a life as dramatic as any Hollywood movie...[her] autobiography is as inspirational as it is cautionary, an often larger-than-life story about chasing your dreams, while also offering a graphic depiction of substance abuse. Carrie's story is poignant, sometimes devastating, and ultimately universal. It captures the turning of decades, the humanity behind the celebrities we elevate to Gods, and the heartbreak of the circle of life." —TCM.com

“White offers a mesmerizing lens into the lives of the bold-facers that called Hollywood home in the sixties and seventies as only a hairstylist could; everyone knows that the salon floor is where all the best gossip happens." —style.com

“Hair! Drugs! Rock 'n' roll! Redemption! You MUST buy this book, and also give a copy to your stylist.”
—xojane.com


"A riveting tale." —Jackie Collins

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Hollywood High

“Excuse me, but are you a Delta?” a girl asked, talking down to me.

“No, I think I’m a Lutheran.”

“Well, you can’t sit there if you’re not a Delta.”

It was my first day at Hollywood High School. I was sitting on a bench in the quad area. I had never heard of a quad before this school. Who was she ... the quad police? And what the hell was a Delta anyway?

Screw her. I didn’t see a sign that said Private Property. I just wanted to eat my damn lunch.

She looked at me like I was a Christmas decoration at an Easter party. I felt the pencil melting off my arched eyebrows and my red lipstick cracking. No one else was wearing a tight pegged calf-length skirt, a black sweater with a false collar tucked in, a stacked pachuca hairdo adorned with spit curls on each side, and dangling Mexican earrings. I walked over to the other side of the bench around the big tree.

“You can’t sit there either,” she barked. “That’s the Lambdas’ bench. And that other tree over there”—she pointed—“that’s the Betas’ bench. And those benches over there”—she pointed to another and another—“is the Thetas’ bench and that one is the Alphas’. So don’t sit there either, unless you’re an Alpha, a Beta, a Lambda, or a Theta.” She looked me up and down. “And I doubt you are.”

The social scene at Hollywood High School was harder than Pacoima. They just gave their gangs different names. I had never heard of the word sorority or known Greek letters had names. This Delta chick looked very different from Pacoima and me. She was polished like an apple, like a picture on a package, like a television commercial. Everything matched, from her white patent leather purse and white patent Mary Jane shoes to her powder blue fuzzy sweater with another tied around her shoulders. Her pleated beige skirt didn’t look like me either and her round bubble hairdo didn’t move. Her lips were glossy white.

What kind of lipstick was white?

I took a deep breath. She’s not going to get me, and neither are all the damn letters of the Greek alphabet. I remembered the administration building nearby had a large bathroom. Certainly that couldn’t be Delta territory. I turned around quickly, and walked without hesitation toward the brick office building, brown paper bag and books in hand. I kept thinking, left or right, which way is the bathroom? Don’t stop to ask anyone.

I was crushed, trying not to show it, trying not to cry. Not from that bratty bitch, but from what the hell was going to become of me here? It didn’t look good. I pulled open the heavy-windowed door, breezed in like I had been there for years, passing students like I was so busy with important things to do. I spotted the sign, Girls’ Room. Hold on just a little bit further. I walked faster, got to the door and exhaled the breath I’d been holding.

Inside, there were a few girls fussing with their hair, chatting. They didn’t notice me. I saw no feet in the third stall, plowed into it, plunked down on the seat, and locked the door. Safe. I hated to cry. It was a sign of weakness, pointless, and never helped. I took a big breath, stacked my books on my lap like a tray, and unfolded my brown paper bag. I could hardly swallow the dry peanut butter sandwich I had made.

For one week, I sat in that locked toilet cubicle having lunch, constantly wondering about those damn Deltas. Finally bored and annoyed, I figured there was more to this school than classes and a toilet. There must be a Delta in one of my classes. I needed to learn more. I became the Delta detective. Then one day in art class, I heard a new friend, Eve Babitz, talking about the Delta Hell Night coming up. I scooted closer, looking at her drawing. “What’s a Hell Night?”

“Well ... first you have to be rushed.”

“What’s rushed?”

“That’s when you are asked by a club to join, then you begin pledging.”

“What’s pledging?”

“That’s when you do anything they ask, and I mean anything! It takes a week, and if you pass, you have the final test, Hell Night.”

Upon further research, I found the Deltas happened to be the coolest and snobbiest girls. They had privileged backgrounds. Their parents were famous or rich or both. I had none of these qualifications. I liked the challenge. I was determined to be a Delta, if only for vengeance.

Using my survival techniques, I saw that if I had a different walk, different talk, and most important, different hair, maybe I could be a girl the Deltas might invite in. As my mother the artist would say after another boyfriend broke up with her, back to the drawing board.

First of all, I hated my name, Carole ... so common. When I complained to my mother that seven girls in my class had the name Carol, she said, “But you have an e on the end of your name, you were named after Carole Lombard, your Carole is beautiful.”

“Mom, when the teacher calls Carol, she doesn’t say, the one with the e on the end.”

“Carole” had to go. I remembered back in Pacoima Junior High, a new girl in seventh grade announced her name was Carrie, a name I had never heard before. I loved the uniqueness. I had been name-shopping for ages, and I thought of stealing it then, but I had dropped the idea when the Renegades nicknamed me Suki. Outside of Pacoima and a gang party, Suki sounded like a Japanese dog. Entering this new school was the perfect time for me to take this perfect name.

I started telling everyone: “My real name was Carole, but my mother calls me Carrie for short.” Then I told my mother: “If someone calls and asks for Carrie, that’s me.”

“You? Why would any one call you that?”

“I don’t know, Mom, they just do ... it’s a nickname.”

So that was that. I was unofficially, officially Carrie, Carrie Enwright. And that was Enwright with a w.

Next project was my clothes and hair. I dumped my socks, my bunny shoes, false collars, and full Mexican skirts in the wastebasket. I didn’t know where these Hollywood High girls got their looks, but I was sure it wasn’t in a store like Anita’s off San Fernando Road. They talked about Geistex sweaters and Lanz dresses, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Then there was the world of Max Factor, a makeup store across the street from Hollywood High ... how convenient.

I listened carefully to the girls in gym chat about Hollywood Boulevard and shopping at The Broadway and Lerner’s Dress Shop. I’d never been inside a large department store. I told my mother that none of my clothes fit. I would get a job or help her ink and paint, but I had to have a new wardrobe or I was not going to school.

“Fine,” she said, and gave me fifty dollars. That was the most money I had ever seen at one time. I shopped wisely so I could get the most for the money. I even found a cardigan that looked like a Geistex. I think one real Geistex sweater cost more than fifty dollars. I bought two knee-length kick-pleat skirts, an angora sweater, and a few blouses. I bought bracelets instead of my usual dangling earrings. Now I had a chance to conquer this new turf. Oh wait, shoes, they tell a lot. I had enough money left over to go to Leeds shoe store, also on Hollywood Boulevard. I bought little flats like that pretty Delta, Rosalind Frank, wore.

But the most important detail was her hair, and I knew I needed to change mine. The Hollywood High hairdo had a name: the Flip. I would study the girls’ hair, imagining how they get it to curl up on the bottom. And I needed to cut bangs, smooth bangs that swooped to one side, not like my mother’s 1940s movie star bangs. I learned in Pacoima and it held true in Hollywood: If I could get my hair right, my life would work better.

Rosalind Frank was in my gym class. I spotted her right away, she reminded me so much of Beverly. She was very pretty and always seemed to have the answer when anyone asked her anything. Rosalind was sharp and assertive and didn’t take any crap. She had a Delta friend, Taffy Paul, whom I also admired. I especially liked her name. Taffy would be my new Charlotte. She was smart and sophisticated, rode horses, and studied drama like me. Then there was Louise, Roz’s best friend, soon to be her second-best friend, because I was going to be Rosalind’s best friend.

I made sure Roz heard me in the locker room, when I would talk about my mother being an artist at MGM and that she had been in films herself.

Finally, Roz said one day, “Do you want to come to Coffee Dan’s today?”

I knew this was the after-school spot.

“Sure,” I answered, not wanting to be too anxious.

“We meet at the Delta bench at three-fifteen ... do you know where that is?”

“I’ll find it.”

When the final school bell rang, I knew this was it, like a first date: win the Deltas over or end up a dud. Roz was waiting at the Delta bench.

“Hey, everyone,” she said. They looked up. “This is Carrie, she’s new.” They nodded and went back to chatting. Roz said to me, “We’re waiting for one other girl, do you know Suzy Sparks?”

“No.”

“She’s a Delta, her mother played Blondie on television,” Roz whispered.

“Oh ...” I knew the comic strip, but I’d never seen the TV show.

“That’s Barbara Parkins over there,” Rosalind said. “She’s an actress and she’s talking to our Delta president, Kathy; her dad is Dana Andrews, famous movie star, you’ve heard of him, right? You’ll meet everyone at Coffee Dan’s.”

Suzy Sparks came up, talking about getting a new car for her birthday.

Another girl rushed over. “Sorry I’m late.” She was that bratty-bitchy girl that booted me off this bench. Good ... she didn’t recognize me, probably because of my new Flip.

We paraded up Highland and turned at the corner of the Max Factor building to the coffee shop on Hollywood Boulevard. I followed Rosalind. I sat next to Taffy. She was a barrel of laughs, making fun of everything. The conversation settled on the plans for an Easter vacation in Palm Springs.

Rosalind and I were becoming closer. I was dazzled by her. She always had the perfect hairstyle, perfect makeup—from Max Factor Essence of Pearl lipstick to painted eyeliner that curled up at the corner of her eyes—and it seemed she had a new outfit every day, plus many real Geistex sweaters. One day she wore a black spaghetti-strap sheath to school. It was shocking.

She said, blasé, “It’s Friday.”

All the boys were crazy over Rosalind. She dressed older than her age and walked like she was a pageant queen. She had that edge like Beverly. It was confidence and that was glamorous.

I was struck by glamour since I was four years old, by my one and only grandmother, my mother’s mother. She lived in her own world with her movie scrapbooks and vaudeville clippings of herself. She always wore bright red lipstick and had a big dimple in her cheek that she said was just for me. She would constantly tell me, “You’re the apple of my eye.” As hard as I searched her eyes, I could never quite locate that apple, but I believed her. Sometimes she took me to the fancy Clifton’s Cafeteria downtown. We would dress up and she would say, “Order whatever you like.” Once we went there for her birthday. “Your nana is fifty years old, don’t I look good for my age?” I had no idea about age, except that it seemed important to look good.

Nana was a manicurist at this point in her multicolored life; her modest apartment was filled with framed autographed photos as if they were art or trophies. The haunting gaze of the magnificent Hedy Lamarr captivated me, along with another woman who had an even more intriguing face. On my tiptoes, I would hang on to Nana’s lace-clothed dressing table, studying this woman’s huge black eyes and eyebrows. Her name was Joan Crawford. She gave my grandmother her daughter’s old clothes to pass on to me. My favorite was a wallaby coat, a fur from Australia.

Nana had run away from home to be in the circus when she was twelve. Later she performed in vaudeville, dressing like a man because women were not allowed onstage at that time. She met and married my grandfather, a magician and xylophonist, when she was seventeen. Through the vaudeville circuit, they became good friends with comedian Stan Laurel. My grandparents had many theatrical connections and as a result they arranged for my mother to act in many Our Gang comedies. This led to my mother’s aspiring starlet days while attending Beverly Hills High School. My mother and grandmother had parts in the Laurel and Hardy film Babes in Toyland. This was their big Hollywood fame. Now Nana was living not too far from my mother and me, in a little apartment, alone, never having remarried after my grandfather left her, before I was born.

Strutting down the hall after first period, Rosalind popped the question: “How would you like to be a Delta?”

“Ummm, I hadn’t given it much thought,” I said, screaming whoopee inside.

“Why not? We do spend so much time together.”

Pledge week: I had to wear a paper toilet seat around my neck during lunch and tell everyone I was an ass. I had to come to school without makeup. That was the worst for me, but not as bad as the other two pledges who had to walk around school with a grape up each nostril during lunchtime.

I was well on my way to owning that Delta bench. Then came Hell Night.

We all met at Kathy the president’s house. Her father, Dana Andrews, came down the sweeping staircase in his smoking jacket, hair slicked back like I remembered my father’s. “Having a little gathering with your friends tonight, darling?” he said to Kathy at the entry, then stepped into his private library and closed the big white door behind him. I was excited to be in this luxurious home in the Hollywood Hills—a movie star home. Kathy hollered through the closed door, “Daddy, you can’t come into the kitchen. We’re having a ceremony, okay?”

“Okay, dear.”

We all went into the den. Pledges were told to sit on the floor.

“This is the most important night of your life,” Kathy announced. “Do I hear any objections to any of these nominations?” I hoped that girl from the first day at the Delta bench didn’t make trouble for me. “Pledges, raise your hand if you are ready to proceed.” We slowly raised our hands. Taffy and Roz looked so serious. A few more girls I hadn’t met were there. They were alumnae Deltas.

“Follow me to the sacred kitchen, one lowly pledge at a time.” Kathy directed Ruth to be first.

I heard her scream, “Not me, I’m not going to eat that.” Then I heard nothing. After ten long minutes Ruth came out, watery-eyed, with a faint self-preserving smile, and sat back down like a trained pup. Another girl did the same, only she barfed on herself afterward.

“Next ...” Kathy called from the kitchen.

“That’s you,” the girls said synchronously. Escorted by Roz, I walked into the kitchen. The lights were off. Little candles were lit on every counter, and on top of the refrigerat...

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