The relationship between a woman and her hairstylist is a sacred one. But there was something exceptionally special between Sharon Tate, who would have been 76 today, and Jay Sebring. With two Tate-inspired films in the works for 2019, and a third one in development, their story has inspired renewed interest.
Introduced by journalist Joe Hyams in 1964, Tate and Sebring's chemistry was instantaneous, and they began a relationship that lasted until Tate met her future husband Roman Polanski on the set of 1966's The Fearless Vampire Killers. Despite their romantic split, the pair forged an equally close platonic bond and remained nearly inseparable until their unconscionable deaths at the hands of the Manson Family—35-year-old Sebring was allegedly killed while trying to protect Tate, who was eight months pregnant—in 1969. For those who knew Sebring, the news was hard to believe for reasons that stretched beyond the obvious. The notorious playboy, who possessed boyish good looks and a proclivity for zooming around town in a Mustang Cobra, was a larger-than-life character who helped birth the rise of the celebrity hairstylist.
Born John Kummer, he always had his sights set on slick, shiny success. After serving in the Navy, cutting his teeth styling hair during the Korean War, Sebring made a beeline for Los Angeles and reinvented himself as Jay Sebring, naming himself after a famous race car track in Florida. He attended beauty school, then honed his skills and natural business-savvy by opening a glossy modern namesake salon, swapping old-fashioned hooded dryers for streamlined, handheld versions imported from Europe and building a private VIP styling room that would become infamous for housing his amorous trysts. In fact, Warren Beatty’s character in 1975’s Shampoo was reportedly based on Sebring’s womanizing ways.
Sebring's salon would quickly become a revolving door of Hollywood faces, from Tate, who was sealing her fate as a rising presence in 1967's Valley of the Dolls, to the coterie of bonafide male movie stars, including Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, and Steve McQueen, who came to him for his cutting-edge techniques. After opening salons in New York City and London, Sebring became even more in-demand, flying to Las Vegas every three weeks to tend to the coifs of Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., in addition to working as lead hair designer on the sets of iconic films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Thomas Crown Affair.
While Tate and Sebring's lives were tragically cut short, their stories remain separate—and yet indelibly intertwined. Like so many before them, they forged a path built on love, loyalty, and Hollywood dreams. And with these new films in the works, and the 50th anniversary of their deaths on the horizon, it's a legacy that will continue to live on.