Some like it bobbed: The man who styled Jackie K & Marilyn
Published 19/05/2013 | 05:00
Although well aware that he was ministering to the hair of both women at a time when President John F Kennedy was reputedly having an affair with the film star, Battelle was not one to dish the dirt.
"There's a relationship between all customers and hair people," he insisted. "It's an intimate service, and you feel a little different than you would if you were selling a pair of shoes."
His clients also included Lucille Ball (who called him "God"), Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Vanderbilt, Brooke Astor, Lauren Bacall and Judy Garland. In 2003, Vanity Fair magazine declared that in the 1960s only two hairdressers contended with Battelle for pre-eminence: Alexandre in Paris and Vidal Sassoon in London.
In the course of his career, Kenneth – as he preferred to be known (never "Mr" Kenneth) – persuaded women to move away from permanent waves, bleaches and hairspray in favour of a softer, more romantic look, and he popularised the use of rollers to create natural-looking contours.
Rollers were the key to styling Jacqueline Kennedy, who had become the most-photographed woman in the world. Battelle used them to create the First Lady's signature bouffant look that women all over the world wanted their own stylists to copy.
In 1954, Battelle was working for Helena Rubinstein in New York when the newly married Mrs Kennedy arrived at the salon and asked for Lawrence, her usual stylist. When it turned out that Lawrence was off sick, the receptionist paged Battelle.
He decided that her Italian cut was too short, layered and curly for her figure, so he stretched out her hair by setting it with large, specially made rollers. The famous style Battelle later created for her was designed to lengthen her head and balance her broad, high cheekbones. Although he applied some hairspray, he allowed a few trailing wisps to create a slightly tousled look.
Battelle liked to recall a photograph of the Kennedys in a convertible on their way to pick up the King of Morocco in 1961. "The President is gazing at her and brushing these strands away from her face with his fingers," he noted. "That's exactly why I put them there."
In 1958, Battelle applied a makeover to Marilyn Monroe, whose hair had been so overbleached and overpermed that it was falling out. In May 1962, he groomed her for President Kennedy's 45th birthday rally in New York, where she sang 'Happy Birthday, Mr President'.
In later life, Battelle recalled the gossip he had heard about her having an affair with the president. "She said she was fearful of publicity," he told Vanity Fair. "I don't really know what she had in mind, but since I was doing both Marilyn and Mrs Kennedy at the same time, I imagine it was about that."
Kenneth Everette Battelle was born on April 19, 1927, in Syracuse, New York State. His parents divorced when he was 12, and after Central High School he took a job styling hair at a local hotel, where his clientele included prostitutes who worked around the bus station.
His mother "hated the idea that I decided to do hair, because red-blooded American boys didn't do that".
As a teenager towards the end of World War Two, he enlisted in the US Navy, and after his discharge returned to New York with $8 in his pocket. Applying for a job at Helena Rubinstein's famous salon, he lied and said he had "Fifth Avenue experience". He was taken on, and within a few years was styling the hair of Jacqueline Kennedy.
Battelle often travelled to Washington DC to style the First Lady's hair, and in November 1963, on the day before the Kennedys flew to Dallas, he was summoned to the White House. At 7am on November 21, he was preparing to do her hair when the president strolled in and remarked that his young son, John Jr, wanted to wave the couple off at Andrews Air Force Base.
Kennedy was torn between taking him or leaving him with a nanny, and Battelle said: "The hell with the nanny." "You're right," Kennedy replied. "I'll get him dressed." The president was assassinated the following day.
In 1966, Battelle styled the hair of many of the women who attended Truman Capote's masked Black and White Ball, among them Pamela Harriman, Lee Radziwill, Rose Kennedy, and Capote's guest of honour, Katharine Graham. At his salon off Fifth Avenue – where the colour scheme was supposed to evoke a circus – clients were served tea and sandwiches. The salon burned down in 1990, and Battelle later moved his business to the Waldorf-Astoria, where, until two years ago, he continued to work four days a week.
Battelle insisted he was nothing more than a hard-working servant. "What I do," he said, "is only a shampoo away from being nothing."
He is survived by three sisters.