Hairdresser to the Stars Carrie White Recalls the Summer L.A. Changed Forever

The celebrity hairstylist counted Manson murder victim Sharon Tate among her famous clients

The release of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has everyone looking back at the summer of ’69. Legendary celebrity stylist Carrie White wasn’t just there, she had her fingers in the hair of everyone Jimi Hendrix to Sharon Tate, whose brutal murder at the hands of the Manson Family ushered in the more cynical 1970s. White has also counted Nancy Reagan, Elvis, Betsy Bloomingdale, Jennifer Jones, Brad Pitt, Ann Margret, Sandra Bullock, and Margot Robbie—who plays Tate in Tarantino’s film—among her notable clients.

White became famous in her own right too, appearing on a 1968 episode of classic game show To Tell the Truth and working behind the scenes on films including Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Being There, and Shampoo.

White recently merged her eponymous Beverly Hills’ Carrie White Salon with Farré Salon, across from the Peninsula Hotel, and still maintains a trendy clientele. We asked her to recall the literal end of an era.

Where were you in the summer of ’69? Paint a picture of that moment in pop culture.

I was right here in Beverly Hills, doing hair in my own salon. I’ve been doing hair for over 50 years in Beverly Hills. I grew up in Pacoima, went to Hollywood High, then attended Lapin Brothers Beauty College. It all started when my client James Galanos recommended me to Jennifer Jones. Doing hair was a constant party in those days. Sometimes I cut hair on roller skates, in spandex pants, with a gram of coke in my back pocket. At night we’d all go to the iconic Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace and do a few laps—it was at La Cienega and Santa Monica, where CVS is now. Let me tell you, raspberry margaritas and roller skating is not a good combo! All the fashion designers were there: Galanos, Gustave Tassell, stars like Cher and Jane Fonda. Everybody was wearing little shorts, midriff tops, and platforms: the whole scene was about to go ’70s disco glamour. Then when it all got too much. Falling down on a roller rink is a lot worse than falling down on the dance floor! The paramedics would come and drag everyone out.

Describe the scene in your actual salon that summer.

It was a wild and crazy time. In 1968, a “drive-by” wasn’t a shooting, it was popping into the salon for a fast touch up. Elvis Presley came to my salon just to say hello sometimes. When he’d show up, the ladies leaped out of their shampoo pools, they wanted his attention so badly. I remember one day in 1968, when Warren Beatty came into the salon, Joan Collins didn’t want him to see her under the dryer in rollers. He’d just strolled in with Julie Christie. His personality was so cute.

Some of the actresses would get their hair done before they got to the salon, it was such a scene. The men dropped in to see all the dolls. The salon on Brighton Way was around the corner from the Luau—I’d skip out and go to the Luau for a zombie drink, then they’d have to come find me to comb out their hair. The party was as big as the hair, let me tell you. You had to be careful what you said about famous people in my salon—they could be sitting next to you.

What kinds of hair looks were Hollywood ladies were wearing in the summer of ’69?

At that time, hair was everything. Everyone was wearing these hairpieces called “falls:” they had a little yarmulke base, and lots of long hair. You could pull them back and let them drop down behind, and with your own hair tucked over them, they were fairly realistic. It was a look. But of course, me, I was already ahead of that and trying to get women to let go of their falls. The Sassoon geometric look was starting to trend. Angular bobs. The ’60s were a conflict between very fixed looks, and very shag layered ones. Once those hairpieces came off it freed women up from having so much dependency on their hairdresser. But they still came in a lot. No one had hairdryers at home, they had their hair combed out twice a week.

How was Sharon Tate wearing her hair?

Sharon wore hairpieces a lot. She also had her own hair—I’d cut her hair just like the hairpieces. You know, I lived with Sharon and Roman for a bit ; she invited me to her wedding, we went shopping, we went to dinners with Lawrence Harvey. I was one of the 12 people at Roman and Sharon’s wedding at the courthouse, the night before the wedding at the Playboy Club. I didn’t do her hair for the wedding—that very curly embellished look—but I did curl her hairpieces at night.

Who did Sharon’s hair for her wedding—with all the ribbons and flowers?

She brought in Abigail Folger, the coffee heiress who was also murdered that night, to do her hair. Along with another famous hairdresser, Jay Sebring [also murdered on August 9, 1969]. The whole subject, I never talked about it in 40 years till not long ago. It changed this town so drastically. I had a psychic experience the night before the murders: Richard [Alcala, her husband and a famous hairdresser as well] woke me up in a sweat at 6 a.m. I’d has this dream we were at Roman and Sharon’s and that someone killed everyone in the place. I had been invited to a gathering there the night of the murders, and then the party was canceled, and [famous hairdresser] Gene Shacove said Sharon wasn’t feeling well. Gene left their house at 9 p.m. A lot of people were invited that night: Steve McQueen, Jay Sebring. Sharon was so much more than the person murdered on Cielo Drive.

Clearly that period really shaped what happened in your life after that.

There was no conversation about drug addiction and alcohol addiction then. They didn’t have all those videos when I was hitting my bottom. I now have 35 years of my sobriety I’m very protective of. This is how long I’ve been around: I’ve worn bellbottoms at five different times in my life. Right now I’m my hot pink Lulu Lemons for my pilates class. Next month I will be 76 years old.

RELATED: Will California Ever Release Manson “Family” Member Leslie Van Houten?

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