Obituary: Stanley Hall
Friday 14 January 1994
FOR MORE than a quarter of a century Stanley Hall was wig-maker and make-up artist to the stars, the undisputed master of his trade. He combined artistry in styling with a perfectionist's insistence on the quality both of materials and craftsmanship (the finest hair, often bought from Italian convents, had to be individually woven and hand-knotted strand by strand). His creations were worn with supreme confidence on theatre stages and in film studios across the world. Divas at the New York Metropolitan Opera, heroes and heroines of Hollywood movies, leading players of the British theatre, and the casts of such great musicals as My Fair Lady and such big-budget film epics as Cleopatra were invariably wigged and made up under his direction. Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Katharine Hepburn, Mary Martin, Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, all belonged to that galaxy which claimed his dedicated attention.
Born in Boston, Lincolnshire, in 1917, he started out as a young make-up artist, working for Alexander Korda's London Films at Pinewood Studios, where he impressed such leading actors as Anton Walbrook and Conrad Veidt, who both became close friends. When war broke out poor eyesight prevented him from serving overseas but he rose to the rank of sergeant-major as one of the chief organisers of Combined Services Entertainment, producing touring shows for the troops such as Stars in Battle Dress. After his demobilisation he set up his own business and went into partnership with a friend and companion of the war years, Noel Macgregor, known universally as 'the Major'. The business, begun on a modest scale, was named Wig Creations and prospered, helped greatly by the complementary personalities of its two founders. Hall's handsome, fair-haired appearance, distinguished by his twin trademarks of bright bow tie and heavy horn-rimmed spectacles, showed readily a twinkling sense of humour and his easy, extrovert flair. This was the ideal counterpart to the Major's discretion, courtesy and gentlemanly reticence.
The wearing of wigs can be a delicate and nervous-making ordeal at the best of times and sensitive performers are naturally apprehensive about facing their public as if topped off with a hunk of coir matting, a splodge of candyfloss or the corpse of a small mammal. Now in the hands of Stanley Hall, they could have an absolute assurance that they would be seen to their very best advantage. 'I try to make beautiful women look even more beautiful,' he said.
Such trust leads to close relationships - no star is a hero to his make-up man or wigmaker - and his buoyant sociability made him the friend and confidant of many of those whose heads he so cleverly adorned. He became as much a fixture at smart West End first nights as that familiar legend in the programme: 'Wigs by Wig Creations'. Like Willy Clarkson, that doyen of wig-makers from an earlier era, he also began to flourish as a lavish London host and party-giver.
The firm having now moved from its first premises in George Street to more spacious quarters in Portman Close (150 workers were required to sort the hair and weave and dress the wigs), the main workroom could be turned into the setting for a series of splendid New Year Eve parties where both the glamorous guests and the champagne flowed in an unending bubbling stream and where Judy Garland and Margot Fonteyn would be waiting for the chimes of midnight.
There was, however, another contrasted side to his gregarious nature, expressed in his love for the country and a passion for birds and animals. In 1961 he had found a bungalow, at Soggs Parva, near Robertsbridge on the Kent and Sussex border, and this he gradually extended and transformed into a light and airy pavilion with an almost Mediterranean atmosphere. In the south-facing terraced garden peacocks and white doves strutted and fluttered, from an adjoining aviary came the squawking chorus of an exotic collection of rare tropical birds and in the fields across the way grazed a herd of Welsh mountain ponies and a flock of Barbary sheep.
Regular visitors ceased to be surprised when they found a curly-horned Jacob ram nuzzling them in the drawing-room or were joined for lunch by a talkative troop of parrots, macaws and cockatoos (one of them perhaps a gift from Sir John Gielgud), which would perch on the head and shoulders of the host and frequently help themselves from the guests' plates. Like St Francis and Dr Dolittle before him, Hall had truly found the gift of being able to talk to the animals.
In the mid-Seventies luck ran out for him. The business, always labour-intensive, had now become over-extended. The bank loans mounted and finally, unable to solve the problems of increasing debt, he was forced to relinquish the business which he had founded and for which he had created a world reputation. Good friends rallied round, however, and he was able to keep his beloved animals and his country retreat, which he continued to share with Noel Macgregor (who died in 1982) and with his friend of nearly 40 years, the biographer and producer Charles Castle. Undaunted in the face of misfortune, and eternally optimistic, he continued to trade as Stanley Hall of London, marketing various luxury products such as soap and scents which his friend Noel Coward had allowed him to name after three of his famous plays, Easy Virtue, Conversation Piece and Blithe Spirit. Indeed, blithe spirit sums up neatly both his character and his life - zestful, warm, gregarious, perennially youthful - which made him in his great heyday without peer in his craft.
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