As of now, there is no antidefamation league for hairdressers, but that’s just as well, because whom would the annual banquet acclaim as man-of-the-year—Jon Peters or Warren Beatty? Actually, there might be an even apter compromise choice, Englishman Vidal Sassoon, except that he tends to laugh off the whole image problem of his profession. “Before, we were supposed to be mincing queens,” Vidal complains. “Now, we’re machos. In truth, we’re neither.”
In truth, indeed, either maturity or a raised consciousness has caused Sassoon to blank out his own priapic past in the 1960s, when he emerged as the most powerful crimper since Delilah. “I was in a position to meet the most beautiful women in the world,” he admits. “One would have had to be crazy not to enjoy it.” That is, until Beverly Adams, a Canadian-born actress, alighted in his London salon, “ruined my hobby” (as he quaintly described it) and within three months married him.
Nine years later, the Sassoons have converted beauty into a crusade and a conglomerate. Vidal now has 900 employees and 31 salons in six countries, grossing some $10 million a year. Beverly has co-authored with her husband a how-to-do-it guide for narcissists, A Year of Beauty & Health, which is already into its fourth printing after just three months. “The question is no longer what women will be doing with their hair,” according to Vidal, “but what they are doing with their bodies and minds.” Another question might be, who needs beauty at the cost of rinsing in cider vinegar, sunbathing in avocado oil or slathering on facial masks made from almond meal? And that’s only the external part of the Sassoons’ ritual. They also work on their inner selves with daily calisthenics, yoga, meditation and a natural foods diet based on a vitamin-saturated glop they grind up in their blender. But who can quarrel with the results of their seeming zealotry? They look not their ages—he’s 48, she’s 30—but as if they’d discovered the fount that eluded Ponce de León.
“We become mentally old before we develop our full potential,” explains Vidal, who’s convinced that “the right balance between vitality and serenity, between self-fulfillment and realistic self-acceptance” can stiffen everything from posture to cuticles. (A plastic surgeon can help, too, and Vidal forthrightly owns up that he had the bags under his eyes unpacked a couple of years ago.)
Sassoon’s rise to be international guru of good health could hardly come from a less likely beginning. He grew up in London’s Cockney East End. His father, a Sephardic Jew from Turkey, vanished when Vidal was an infant, and his impoverished mother was forced to place him in an orphanage. Vidal dropped out of school at 14 to work as a shampoo boy in a small salon. “I had a tail comb and was making curls around people’s heads,” he remembers. “They looked worse when they went out than when they came in.”
He volunteered to fight for Israel in the Negev Desert in 1948 (“It was the year of my life—it gave me great confidence.”) and returned to open his first London shop in a third-floor walk-up. Convinced that “if I had to be in hair, I was going to do it my way,” he began devising his trademarked short Geometric cut. In the 1960s Sassoon clipped Mary Quant and Mia Farrow, the Beatles adopted his style and he “woke up one morning and found out that I was being called one of the leaders of the swinging ’60s.” The only setback in that giddy period was the frizzing out after three years of his marriage to his receptionist. “Her parting remark,” Vidal recalls, “was there was no way she was going to take second place to a haircut.”
His second wife-to-be, Beverly, was born in the prairie province of Alberta to a Canadian mother and a U.S. Air Force father who once played minor league baseball. Her itinerant family wound up in Burbank, Calif., where “I was a typical cheerleader with pompoms.” At 16 she did a TV commercial with Art Linkletter and got into series like Doctor Kildare. She also entered “about 15 or 20” beauty contests where she became Miss Sepulveda and once finished higher than Racquel Welch but winces, “People were looking at you as if you were a horse.” The biggest prize Beverly won was a $350-a-week contract with Columbia. She made negligible pictures like Winter A-Go-Go and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and dated Elvis Presley and Los Angeles Dodger Sandy Koufax—a coup for a girl still living with her parents.
In 1966 Beverly was filming Torture Garden in London when she was sent to a Bond Street hairdressing heavy she had never heard of. “This man tapped me on the shoulder and told me Mr. Sassoon wanted to look at my hair when it was finished,” she recalls. “What I didn’t know was that every young, attractive girl was tapped on the shoulder and told that.” After a couple of dates Vidal dragged Beverly off to a health farm where, to his own surprise, too, he asked her to marry him. When she accepted, Sassoon hastily pointed out the liabilities. “He said there was my career, that he was a Jew and I was raised as a Catholic, plus the 18-year age difference.” But it was not until their Las Vegas wedding and honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta that Beverly got “a rude awakening. He wanted to go to the beach, and I don’t like the beach. He wanted early nights, and I wanted to go to a discotheque.”
Vidal and Beverly have since battled out most, but not all, of their differences. He’s still dismayed by her smoking at breakfast (though her intake is a mere pack a week) and her craving for red meats, the sight of which practically causes Sassoon to retch. Beverly, in turn, has little liking for his custom of a monthly fast lasting 36 hours, which she says “just makes me feel faint.”
In 1968 Sassoon moved his headquarters from London to New York, and two years ago he and Beverly pushed on to their opulently decorated $300,000 Beverly Hills manse, mainly for the benefit of their three children—Catya, 7, Elan, 6, and Eden, 2½. “I was always a pseudo-American,” cracks Vidal. “Now I’m a nouveau Californian.” They’re now in the process of adopting a fourth child, a 3-year-old mulatto. “We’ve always talked about taking a child to give it the same opportunities as our own,” Beverly explains. “Three weeks ago David was in a foster home, and now he’s riding around in a Rolls-Royce.”
She feels a bit queasier about the upward mobility and recently decided to enroll in Santa Monica College to study for the degree she never got. “I’ve found it a little difficult being the other half of a household word,” she says. Meanwhile, Vidal, too, would like to cut a still wider swath in the culture. “If I had my choice,” he says, “I’d be an architect. They sculpt the whole world.”