I’ve never gotten so many compliments on my hair since I moved to Los Angeles. What in New York was just hair—thick and brown with a tendency to lighten in the sun, and probably, out of sheer laziness on my part, a little too long—in LA has become a totemic object. Co-workers constantly comment on its natural wave, asking if I’ve just been to the beach, or if I’m using that salt spray they sell at Kiehl’s; saleswomen at Nordstrom ask if they can touch it; and my own hairdresser, adjusting a foil or wielding the scissors for a precision angle trim, treats it as though he were handling a major artistic work of the 20th century. When his assistant was doing my roots the other day, I jokingly mentioned his perfectionism. “With a canvas like this, how could she resist?” she said reverently. “Your hair is amazing. You have the perfect L.A. hair.”
And apparently, it’s all due to the legendary influence of Piny Bezanken. Often cited as the inspiration for Adam Sandler’s character in the 2008 action-comedy Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Piny is the Beverly Hills-based Einstein of hair extensions, able to transform even the thinnest, lankest head of hair into a lush wonderland of metaphorical fecundity and sun-kissed highlights. He’s made wigs for everyone from Melanie Griffith and Shirley MacClaine, to Liberace, Dolly Parton and John Travolta (in Pulp Fiction; we can make whatever assumptions we wish about the rest of Travolta’s mysteriously disappearing/re-appearing locks). But Bezaken, who opened his studio in 1975, made his name with his very first client: Farrah Fawcett.
It may have been the most famous hair in the most famous poster of all time—those feathered bangs! The beachy waves that went on forever! So much hair, artfully rumpled, carelessly streaked, looking like it just looked like that, which of course it didn’t. In her most famous incarnation, Farrah had a head full of extensions—Piny imports it from Russia now—to make her hair look glossy, infinite, a little unruly. Thicker than a blonde’s, lighter than brunette, a perfect storm of DNA, as though a variety of ethnic hair styles had been combined in a petri dish until the right combination had been found.
It’s only recently that I realized where—or what—that petri dish my be. “What’s your ethnic background?” the saleslady at Nordstrom’s asked me, after she’d determined that my hair is, in fact, all mine.
“Jewish,” I said. “Just the basic Eastern/Central-European kind.”
She nodded, wisely, as though she should have known. “Of course. That makes sense.”
And that’s when I realized exactly what Piny Benzaken has done: he invented the perfect L.A. hair by giving L.A. Jewish hair. The perfect L.A. body? We’re still working on that.
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Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.