From Hair to Hollywood
"Is it safe? Is it safe?" In an unforgettable scene in the 1976 film "Marathon Man," Sir Laurence Olivier leans over Dustin Hoffman and, while threatening a vulnerable tooth with a dental instrument, repeatedly hisses that question, "Is it safe? Is it safe?"
All who have sat in a dentist's chair anticipating the worst could identify with Hoffman's terror. But, did you happen to notice Olivier's hair? His shock ol white tresses probably didn't make that much of an impression unless you were a friend or relative of Ginger Blymyer's and knew the trouble she went through to achieve just the right look for Olivier. "He started the movie in a wig which we had to cut as the movie called for him to change identity," Ginger said. "In the second half of the movie he appears with his own hair although we had to shave his head to make him look more bald."
Currently proprietor of the Snowvillage Inn in Snowville with her husband Pat, Ginger Blymyer was Olivier's hairdresser during the filming of "Marathon Man." "Working with an actor with the status of Olivier was one of the biggest thrills of my career," said Ginger, "and he was a real down-to-earth, nice guy." Coming from a professional whose career has spanned 30 years and who has worked with a wide range of Hollywood illuminaries from Clark Gable to Willie Nelson, that is quite a compliment.
Ginger is now semi-retired from her career as a hair-dresser to the stars. "It got to the point where Pat and I wanted to settle down and have some roots," said Ginger. Since the break-up of the old studio system during the early '60s, working on a movie has involved travelling and sometimes spending anywhere from six weeks to six months on a movie location. "You make friends with the crew while working on a movie," Ginger explained, "but as soon as the movie is over, everyone moves on."
Seven years ago, the Blymyers, whose romance started on the set of the "Boston Strangler" in 1968, travelled to the Snowville area to look at the inn. They immediately bought it. "We fell in love with it at first sight," said Ginger, a native Californian. "It was everything we wanted, although I wasn't exactly sure where New Hampshire really was."
At the time of the purchase, both Pat and Ginger were at the peak of their careers, a situation which has proven beneficial to them over the years. "Pat is a gaffer, which is the head lighting person on a picture, and he is constantly in demand," Ginger said. "He's just too good to really quit. I've been lucky that I've been remembered by directors, and they call me when they are working in the East, or sometimes I get to do a film with Pat." Though dedicated to successfully running the Snowvillage Inn, the Blymyers can easily justify continuing their careers in the movie business because it helps to finance their constant renovations and improvements to the inn.
Ginger started her Hollywood career as a messenger girl at MGM during the '50s. Assigned to the make-up and stock rooms, Ginger began running errands for the make-up specialists and hairdressers. "Those early years were like being in a movie myself," Ginger remembered. "All the old-time movie stars like Gable and Marilyn Monroe were still around. They somehow seemed more glamorous than the actors do now."
To enable her to move up in the ranks, Ginger attended cosmetology school. It took her five years to complete what would normally be only an 18-month course--not because she was a slow learner but because she could only attend at night. Ginger also gave birth to her first daughter, Laurie, now 26, at that time. "In those days it was always a struggle financially," she said. "For tax purposes, the studios would shut down for a few months every year, putting everyone out oft work."
After a few years as an assistant, Ginger eventually became head hairdresser in 1962 for the movie "All Fall Down," starring Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, and a very young Warren Beatty. By then, she had been around actors and actresses enough to be not too overwhelmed by their celebrity. "I tried not to get crushes," Ginger said, "but every once in a while I was nervous at first."
Over the years, Ginger has had the opportunity to work with many of the greats and near greats, and her reminiscences can either make or break a fantasy image. Thirty years of close work with the film industry stars has made Ginger almost a walking movie magazine. She can answer such questions as: What was John Wayne really like? How about Robert Redford? Who's nice and who isn't?
To Ginger, John Wayne was much like he is on film. "Wayne was really fun to work with," she said. "He always surrounded himself with his old cronies on the set and there were lots of stunt men and stunts which made it exciting." Rather than use mascara, Robert Redford had to have his blond eyelashes dyed, a "chore" Ginger performed. "He was real cute about it because it sort of embarrassed him," Ginger said. Working on "Little Darlings," Ginger was surprised to discover that Tatum O'Neal was an easy going, nice young lady but Kristi McNichol was very moody and demanding. "I've never worked with anyone who was a real prima donna although I have worked with some who I wouldn't choose to work with again," said Ginger.
Although it was exciting working with movie people, it is definitely more work than play for Ginger. Movie scenes are not shot chronologically during production and it is the job of the hairdresser to make certain all hairdos remain the same in each scene. Sometimes shots that were filmed weeks apart are spliced together. "I take pictures of each scene and keep a careful record so hairdos are always the same, explained Ginger. She has had to master the art of giving a trim without having the hair look as though it had just been cut.
Some problems are unique to individual actors. On her most recent movie,—the "Song Writer," starring Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Leslie Ann Warren—Ginger braided Nelson's hair for a while, but be decided he preferred to do it himself. This didn't bother Ginger except that she had to constantly keep track of whether his hair should be braided or put in a pony tail, and exactly what color rubber band he used in which scene.
A movie hairdresser also has to help determine how to style a star's hair. It took quite a while to arrive at the right hair style for Leslie Ann Warren's country role in the "Song Writer." No one had a clear picture of how she should look, so it was a trial and error process. "The make-up man on the set taught me this special way to curl the hair which took almost two hours, but I was finally able to get just the right overdone and frizzy look," said Ginger. "Luckily, Pat was there to give it just the right back-lighting to make it look terrific."
While working on the "The Great Race," one of the many movies she did with Natalie Wood, Ginger had to work closely with the costume designer who had carefully researched the period. "I served as a coordinator between everybody," Ginger said. "We would have to test every hairdo with each costume." Ginger enjoyed a 17-year relationship with Natalie Wood, whom she describes as "just fabulous." Because of the rapport between the two, Natalie would have it written into her contract that Ginger would be her personal hairdresser. "Having someone they can trust makes it easier for the actors," explained Ginger. "It gives them one less thing to worry about so they can just concentrate on acting."
Ginger also had a long-standing working relationship with Elizabeth Montgomery, and one of her proudest moments was when she received an Emmy nomination for her work with Montgomery and Hal Holbrook in the mini-series "Awakening Land." "It was filmed in the 'Land of Lincoln' park in Illinois and was set in the years 1790-1815, so it was necessary to make fairly elaborate hairdos," Ginger recalled.
The Hollywood phase of Ginger's life may now behind her, and she is enthusiastically looking forward -to the future. "Working with actors takes a lot of energy," Ginger said. "They have to be constantly nourished and that can be draining. Working at the inn, I am basically doing the same thing--still taking care of people--but it is so much more fun."
Although she has met most of the big names in show business, she still reserves the same awe and respect for local residents she has met. "I enjoyed being in [the movie business] while I was doing it," said Ginger, "but it has gotten to the point where I don't know if I really like actors and actresses anymore. Some of them are really phony."'
Ginger's occupation now is her life with her family--husband Pat, three daughters, Laurie, Tanya, and Xochi, and new grandson Patrick. She is working to preserve what they have found here in their new roles. "I know I would rather be here now, making this work," she said. "Everytime II go away, the more I know I just want to stay here."