Saturday, October 22, 2011

Carrie White on Michael Crichton

In a previous post, I mentioned that Michael Crichton’s hairdresser Carrie White had published her memoir Upper Cut: Highlights of My Hollywood Life.

Carrie White cut Michael Crichton’s hair for 38 years. If we do the math, that means she began cutting his hair around 1970. Anyone fortunate enough to have a longtime hairdresser knows the relationship is a sacred trust. I would more willing change doctors or dentists before I changed hairdressers.

Here’s a photo of Michael Crichton in 1969, before Carrie White got her scissors on him.

And here’s a photo of him after White was doing his hair.

White shared some of her memories of Michael Crichton in an essay for USAToday. She tells how she ended up doing Genevieve Bujold's hair for the film Coma, which Michael Crichton directed.

White writes:

Through the following years, I always booked extra time for Michael's haircuts, so we could have a good visit. He'd tell me about his travels to Borneo or some other place I would never go to, about the latest science discoveries, and about his art interests, from Jasper Johns to Oldenburg. In return, I'd tell him stories about Sunset Strip, about getting high with Hendrix, and about my travels…on peyote at Joshua Tree.

Even though he knew I had started working on my memoir in 1989, I never tried to talk to him about my writing aspirations. I knew everyone was always focused on that subject with him. The salon was his freedom space.

White shows herself to be a true professional in this (something I never doubted, given her list of clients). I’ve known people who’ve worked with celebrities. Two cardinal rules:

1. Don’t gossip about them.
2. Don’t ask them for anything.

Celebrities have to deal with so many people either wanting something or invading their privacy. So they want to be around people who can be trusted to respect boundaries. Carrie White was quite correct not to approach Crichton about her writing. And then:

But one day, when he heard me tell a client that I'd completed my memoir, he surprised me. "When do I get to read something?"

Excited, I emailed him the first part, Pacoima. He wrote me back. "I like it. Let me see the whole book."

Crichton contacted his longtime agent Lynn Nesbit on White’s behalf. As she relates:

I was living on pins and needles for any news, but it was also time for Michael's haircut. I would have him in my chair and wait for him to bring up the subject…my book.

"I told Lynn that your book was witty and disturbing with its honesty and you'd be good on TV."

Nesbit wanted two-thirds of the manuscript cut before she would read it. So White took on the task of whittling down her manuscript:

There went the next year and a half. I went back to my book and did what I've been doing forever. Cut. It was like pulling only the lavender threads from a Chanel tweed suit. I pushed forward with Michael's photo from the back of his memoir Travels starring at me on my desk, and hearing his voice spurring me on, "Hey kid, you wanted to be a writer."

White paid tribute to Travels by using the first line of Crichton’s memoir as one of the epigraphs for Upper Cut.

Nesbit agreed to represent Carrie White in 2009, and Upper Cut was published September 20, 2011. Michael Crichton died on November 4, 2008. White writes:

Today, as my book, Upper Cut, is about to be released, I feel both joy and sorrow.

Michael would be so proud and happy.

I miss him so much. Every day.

One thing I wonder about….

In 1996, psychologist Richard Farson published Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership. Michael Crichton, in a foreword to the book, wrote:

“The challenging book you are holding in your hands was written by a remarkable man. Richard Farson has been my friend for many years…He is one of the warmest, kindest, and most intriguing men I have ever met.”

I didn’t know Michael Crichton and so I will not presume to say what he might have done. But I wonder if he would have written a foreword for Carrie White’s memoir, and what he would have said.

Carrie White contacted me after I posted to Michael Crichton’s Facebook page. We’ve exchanged emails and I enjoy our friendship very much. She floored me by sending me a personally autographed copy of Upper Cut. (She also gave me permission to share a photo of her inscription.)

Being an advance proof, the book White inscribed to me contains a note on the copyright page declaring it to be the property of the publisher and a loan. The page also reads:

“Simon & Schuster reserves the right to cancel the loan and recall possession of the proof at any time.”

And I thought, “Over my dead body.”

No comments: