Wig Designer Paul Huntley Dies at 88

Tony-honored wig master Paul Huntley has passed away at the age of 88 following a short illness in London. His death was announced July 9 in an Instagram post.

Over a six-decade career that spanned 200-plus Broadway shows, Mr. Huntley created the instantly recognizable hairstyles for Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Patti LuPone in Evita, and Harvey Fierstein in Hairspray, among many others. His most recent designs will be seen in the musical Diana when it debuts on Netflix in October ahead of a Main Stem run beginning in November.

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Mr. Huntley made his Broadway debut in 1973 with a production of Uncle Vanya, starring Julie Christie and Lillian Gish. He didn’t stop until earlier this year, when he announced his retirement. Along the way, he designed wigs for Cats, the 1998 and 2015 revivals of Cabaret, The Producers, Hairspray, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and Tootsie. Among the many stars he’s worked with are Jessica Lange, Donna Murphy, Betty Buckley, Glenn Close, Mae West, and Carol Channing.

READ: Magic to ’Do: How Paul Huntley Became a Broadway Wig Master

Born in London, England, July 2, 1933, Mr. Huntley grew up surrounded by a love for glamour. “My mother was an avid movie buff,” Huntley told Playbill in 2004. “She always had magazines, and she would let me look at them. I must have been six or seven, and I saw an article about the make-up people in the studios. It showed the actress Agnes Moorehead being aged from a youngish woman to a 100-year-old lady. And I thought, ‘I want to do something like that.’”

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Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

After studying acting at drama school and joining a touring repertory troupe, Mr. Huntley moved into designing hairstyles. He apprenticed with Stanley Hall’s Wig Creations, which crafted such iconic pieces as Elizabeth Taylor’s hairstyle for Cleopatra. He became a staple of the British film and theatre industry during the ‘50s and ‘60s, working with the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Alec Guinness, and Vanessa Redgrave.

He moved to the U.S. upon recommendation from Mike Nichols in the ‘70s, where he remained for the rest of his career. Usually working with a small team, Mr. Huntley became an institution in his own right. The designer was known for reading the entire script and diving deep into the characters’ psyche before getting started. “If an actor looks in the mirror and isn’t happy with what he or she sees, that’s not good,” he said in an interview. “They have to be totally happy with the way they look, totally secure when they go on, because it plays an important part in the result.”

He was also known for his dedication to serving others, often making wigs for cancer patients in his spare time. In 2003, the American Theatre Wing honored Mr. Huntley with a Special Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre. He was also honored by the Drama Desk Awards in 2002 with a Lifetime Achievement Award.