Sydney Guilaroff (November 2, 1907 – May 25, 1997) was born in London, England to Jewish Russian immigrants who later settled in Canada. Guilaroff’s fifty plus years as Hollywood hairdresser for the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studio made him a lauded contributor to the Hollywood dream factory where he was able to showcase a demonstrable creativity in his chosen profession. Guilaroff was instrumental in crafting many of the hairstyles, which became the signature looks for numerous film stars during Hollywood’s Golden Age. He holds the distinction of being the first hairdresser to be acknowledged with screen credit for his work. During his career, he worked on over two thousand films.
The family lived in both the cities of Winnipeg and Montreal. At age fourteen, Guilaroff left Canada for New York City and found work in the stockroom of Gimbel’s department store. A store accident while on the job induced him to leave Gimbel’s and his lack of employment at times forced him to sleep on benches in the city's Central Park.
His fortunes changed when he answered an employment ad for a beautician’s assistant. He was hired and his responsibilities were menial ones, sweeping the floor of the hair salon. The owner recognized the teenager’s energy and enterprise, and proceeded to mentor him in the hairdressing trade. By the age of sixteen, Guilaroff had become so proficient a hair stylist that he had established a considerable clientele. His blossoming career, however, was interrupted by a diagnosis of tuberculosis, which required his return to Canada. He recovered and returned to New York to continue his profession as hairdresser. It was during this period that Guilaroff is said to have created silent screen star Louise Brooks' signature bob. He also devised the hair looks for actresses Corinne Griffith and Miriam Hopkins. He ultimately found a position at one of the city’s most exclusive salons, Antoine’s where he was known as “Mr. Sydney.”
Career with Metro Goldwyn Mayer
The guiding force in Guilaroff’s rise to prominence as hairdresser to the stars was effectuated by actress Joan Crawford. Crawford brought Guilaroff to Hollywood and MGM where he held the position of chief hair stylist from 1934 into the late 1970s.
At a time when a star’s screen appearance was a significant function of the studio’s image machine, Guilaroff’s skills crafted distinctive looks, which came to be identifiable with the stars for which they were conceived. He was recognized as a master in his profession with an instinctive, creative eye.
Guilaroff maintained his most formidable undertaking had been his work for the 1938 film Marie Antoinette, for which 2,000 court wigs were required and an additional 3,000 wigs for the extra players.
Grace Kelly chose Guilaroff to style her hair for her 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco.
In 1938, Guilaroff became the first single man in the United States to adopt a son whom he named Jon in honor of Joan Crawford. The adoption was opposed by the state of California who took legal means to prevent the adoption. Guilaroff, however, ultimately prevailed and subsequently went on to adopt another son and some years later a third son, who had been a former employee.
In his memoirs, “Crowning Glories,” Guilaroff divulged that he had had romantic affairs with both Greta Garbo and Ava Gardner.
Guilaroff died in Beverly Hills, California on May 25, 1997 at age 89.