When she graduated from Hollywood High School in 1961, Carrie White sported her hair in a candy pink beehive. She had learned, she wrote in her memoir, that “if I could do my hair right, my life would run better.”
After attending beauty school, she gained a reputation for doing other people’s hair well. And soon she was coloring, cutting and shaping the heads of Tinseltown superstars, including Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando.
The media has dubbed Ms White the “first lady of hairdressing”. Sitting in his chair in his Beverly Hills living room were stars as disparate as Jimi Hendrix, Nancy Reagan, Sharon Tate and Lucille Ball; his work on Elvis Presley ensured his fans’ eyes were focused as much on his jet-black pompadour as he was on his gyrating hips.
In the late 1960s, her living room was a continuous party scene.
“Sometimes I’d cut my hair on roller skates, in spandex pants, with an ounce of coke in my back pocket,” she recalled to Los Angeles magazine in 2019. During that heady time, Ms. White was a star herself, even appearing on an episode of the game show “To Tell the Truth.” United Airlines asked her to create a hairstyle for its flight attendants: she imagined a fashionable bob.
But the party did not last. Ms. White’s life plummeted from drug addiction and alcoholism, a horrific descent she described in her memoir, ‘Upper Cut: Highlights of My Hollywood Life’ (2011), which is being transformed into a film starring Julia Fox.
After a few years in the depths, Mrs. White managed to recover and stay there. Even as she resumed her hairdressing business with a whole new generation of stars, including Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock, she was a proud, by no means anonymous, member of Alcoholics Anonymous. She dedicated herself to speaking publicly about drug addiction nationwide and remained sober for the rest of her life – 38 more years.
Ms White died on May 3 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 78 years old. His family said the cause was cancer.
When Mrs. White broke into the hairdressing world, it was dominated by men – Vidal Sassoon, Jon Peters, Gene Shacove and others. Another popular male hairdresser was Richard Alcala, who was Mrs. White’s third husband and was one of the inspirations for Warren Beatty’s debauched hairdresser in ‘Shampoo’ (1975). Ms. White was technical advisor on this film.
As well as styling stars for their personal lives, Ms. White has sculpted many for movies. Notable designs included the iron pageboy for Louise Fletcher’s portrayal of Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and David Bowie’s orange locks in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976).
“Getting my hair done gave me validation,” she told The New York Times in 2011. “It was applause on time, and I needed it on time.”
She was born Carole Douglas Enwright on August 25, 1943 in Los Angeles. Her mother, Grace (Cloakey) Enwright, a film illustrator, named her after actress Carole Lombard. Her father, George Enwright, left when she was very young.
As a girl, she wrote in her memoir, she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, and for a time was raised by an adoptive mother. In a classic Hollywood reimagining story, she started going by the name Carrie in high school and later, after marriage, legally changed her name to Carrie White.
She grew up in Pacoima, a predominantly black and Hispanic section of Los Angeles, then moved to Beverly Hills. At Hollywood High, many of her classmates were wealthy and polite. She concluded that the key to success, besides buying a whole new wardrobe, would be changing up what she called her “stacked pachuca hairstyle adorned with brooch curls on either side,” a holdover from her teenage years in Pacoma.
“The Hollywood High hairstyle had a name: the Flip,” she wrote. “I was studying the girls’ hair, imagining how they made them curl up on the bottom. And I needed to cut bangs, smooth bangs that dipped to the side, not like my mom’s 1940s movie star bangs.
After high school, she attended the Hollywood salon at the Lapin Brothers beauty school from 1961 to 1963.
She opened her own salon in the mid-1960s. One of her first clients was James Galanos, the fashion designer. He recommended Ms White to well-connected actress Jennifer Jones, whose former husbands included David O. Selznick, the producer of ‘Gone with the Wind’ and other great pictures. Celebrities quickly invaded her living room, making it a place to see and be seen.
“Some of the actresses were getting their hair done before they got to the salon, it was such a scene,” Ms White told Los Angeles magazine. She recalled the day in 1968 when Mr Beatty came with Julie Christie – to the mortification of Joan Collins, with whom he had had a relationship, and who was sitting under the roller dryer.
Ms. White spent many of her nights at Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, perfecting her roller skating and keeping fit by doing tricks. She has collaborated with fashion photographers like Richard Avedon on Vogue photo shoots and Melvin Sokolsky on Harper’s Bazaar shoots.
After drug addiction ruined her life and career, she gradually made her way. She regained her hairstylist’s license, made amends with friends, styled clients privately, and reopened a salon in 2005. Writing her memoir became therapy, but the first draft took 11 years and counted. 1,300 pages. Cutting it, she told The Times, was excruciating, “like cutting the blue threads from a Chanel suit.”
She closed her salon in 2017 and worked at Farré Salon in Beverly Hills, where she maintained a hip clientele until the coronavirus pandemic forced her to quit.
But even before that, she had grown disillusioned with what she saw as a loosening of Hollywood’s glamor quotient.
“Everyone looks like everyone else,” she told The Times. “It’s tragic.”
Mrs. White has been married three times. Her brief marriage in 1962 to fellow beauty school student Jordan Schwartz was annulled. She married Frederick White, an entrepreneur, in 1964; they divorced in 1968. She married Mr. Alcala in 1970; they separated several years later, although they never divorced. He died in 1988.
His companion for several years was Alex Holt, an academic tutor. They recently collaborated on a coming-of-age horror novel titled “Disposable Teens,” which has yet to be released but is being picked up for a limited TV series.
In addition to Mr. Holt, Ms. White is survived by a daughter, Tyler Browne, from her first marriage; a son, Adam White, and a daughter, Daisy Carlson, by his second; and two daughters, Aloma and Pitita Alcala, from his third. She is also survived by 10 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Aloma and Pitita Alcala said they recently came across one of their mother’s speeches for Alcoholics Anonymous, and it seemed the most fitting.
“When I die,” Mrs. White had said, “I want to be cremated and put in a disco ball and played to Donna Summer’s song ‘Last Dance’.”