In commemoration of Hairstylists Appreciation Day on April 25, Tidbits centers its focus on Kenneth Batelle, or Mr. Kenneth, as he was known, hairdresser of stars and celebrities.

Kenneth Batelle’s humble beginnings couldn’t have predicted his career of styling the hair of Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, and Judy Garland. After his father abandoned his mother when Kenneth was 12, in the late 1930s, the adolescent became the main support for his mother and four sisters, washing dishes at the train station, short-order cooking, working as an elevator operator, and selling beer at the baseball stadium.

In the midst of World War II, at age 17, Kenneth enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and served for 18 months. Post-war, armed with his G.I. Bill and plans to study psychiatry, he learned that the bill only allowed for six months of schooling. An ad for an Academy of Beauty in New York promised graduates earnings of $100 a week in just six months, and, with $8.00 in his pocket, he moved to Manhattan.

    After four years of working at a salon across from the Greyhound bus station, Kenneth was offered a job at Elizabeth Arden in Lexington, Kentucky. Not wanting to leave New York, he sought a position at Helena Rubinstein on Fifth Avenue, where he met the wife of a Massachusetts junior senator.

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In 1954, Jacqueline Kennedy dropped in to Rubenstein for an appointment with her usual hairdresser, only to discover that he was out sick. Kenneth stepped in and suggested a new style, one that Jackie adored, and he became her stylist.

    When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president, Kenneth became the official “Secretary of Grooming” for the administration. He created Jackie’s signature bouffant hairstyle, creating volume in her hair using custom-made, extra-large Lucite rollers. On the morning that the First Lady and her husband boarded the plane for Dallas in November, 1963, Kenneth was on hand to cut and style her hair.

In 1958, while filming “Some Like It Hot,” actress Marilyn Monroe complained to her fashion designer that over-bleaching and perming was making her hair fall out. Kenneth smoothed and straightened her hair, and became not only her stylist, but a close personal friend as well, accompanying Marilyn to the film’s premiere. He was responsible for her hairstyle the night she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK at his 45th birthday in May, 1962, as well as for her final photo shoot the following month.

    Mr. Kenneth launched his new 17,000-sq.-ft salon in 1962 in the former Vanderbilt mansion on East 54th Street. Here, customers could expect the ultimate degree of pampering, including a wig boutique, massage rooms, steam baths, whirlpool spas, a Pilates studio, and uniformed maids serving finger sandwiches in a relaxed, serene atmosphere. A Mercedes was available for bringing clients to the salon and taking them home afterwards. Clients who didn’t need services could drop in for lunch.    For 28 years, the salon was Manhattan’s most prestigious. In 1990, the 1897 building was destroyed by fire.   

•    Kenneth Batelle continued styling hair until his death at age 86.