Local hairstylist gives us ‘A Senior Moment’

Bernie Safire, left, and friend Paul Maslansky, hold copies of Safire's book "A Senior Moment," which he will sign Sunday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., at Diesel, A Bookstore. Vicki Godal / TMT

From soldier to hairstylist, Olympic medalist and restaurateur to inventor, Bernie Safire, who recently released the book, “A Senior Moment,” talks about the Sixties and more.

By Vicki Godal/Special to The Malibu Times

Local hair stylist Bernie Safire may hear plenty of interesting stories from clients during the course of a day’s work. But if he’s ever told any of his clients his stories, they would be in for treat.

Among some of the more interesting facts about Safire: he competed in the 1981 senior Olympics at age 50, winning eight gold medals in gymnastics (seven gold medals and one best all around); and the sexy Sixties movie “Shampoo,” which starred Warren Beatty as the owner of a Beverly Hills hair salon, was inspired by Safire’s Wilshire Boulevard salon, and Beatty’s character was based on Safire and two of his closest friends.

Capping his long and interesting career (not only as a hair stylist, but he also lists restaurateur and inventor among his accomplishments), Safire recently released, “A Senior Moment,” a book that is part organizer and part journal that owners can fill with their day-to-day stuff. Tabbed categories with humorous “senior” captions cover subjects from appointments, birthdays and medications to where the car is parked and what restaurants are good.

The background story of Safire goes a long way in explaining why he created the organizer. Safire has packed a lot of living into one lifetime. Looking back, he commented on the “Shampoo” days.

“It was really an amazing time,” Safire said. “We all rode motorcycles. I had this fabulous clientele in Beverly Hills. We went to all the social events. At that time, people wouldn’t have a dinner party or get together without inviting their hair dresser. That’s how social it was. People came to my beauty salon and spent the whole day there. Everyone had a bar in their shops and Champagne was the drink. Food was catered in from wonderful restaurants like La Scala and the Luau. It was just amazing.”

Safire’s clients were a who’s who of Hollywood royalty including Steve McQueen, Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles and both their mothers.

In fact, it was McQueen who taught Safire how to dirt bike. “I had just bought an English motorcycle called a Triumph, which I was very proud of,” Safire said. “Steve came over on his motorcycle and took me out to a place called the Brick Factory in the Valley to ride. When we got there, Steve starts stripping my motorcycle to make it a dirt bike. He stripped all the chrome stuff off it. Then we went dirt biking. I never had so many bugs in my teeth and I was filthy. Steve, of course, was wearing a visor helmet and leathers. He thought I was pretty funny.”

In the late Sixties, Safire and his then wife, Carol Merrill, bought a two-and a-half acre ranch in Malibu to raise their daughter, Hillary. A well known television star throughout the Sixties, Merrill was the Vanna White of her day, showing contestants the prizes on “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Continuing to run his salon, Safire also became a successful restaurateur. Safire’s first restaurant was a combination restaurant and barber shop. It was such an unusual combination that the Village Voice even featured it in a story called “Haircuts and Cold Cuts.” Safire opened several restaurants over the years, including the Bagelah and the Whale Watch (now called Sunset) in Malibu as well as a nightclub called Bernie’s in Westwood.

Proving that necessity is the father of invention, Safire became an inventor. Through his experience preparing hair treatments and food, he came up with the design for a portable food or hair preparation station, which he called The Assistant. The Assistant was well received from its inception and is still sold. At his Malibu salon, Safire has created a hair product line called Safire Blue that he sells through his salon.

This all begs the question, how did Safire get into hair?

Raised in Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, Safire spent his childhood competing at gymnastics in school. After high school, Safire planned to compete in the Olympic trials. Instead, he served in the Korean War. When he got out of the service, he went to USC. But after being a soldier, Safire couldn’t concentrate on his university courses. His friend hairstylist Gene Shacove suggested Safire try beauty school and the rest is history. Safire worked for Shacove before opening his own shop in Beverly Hills. Later he opened Bernie Safire in Malibu. His daughter, Hillary, has worked in his salon with him for nine years.

When asked why people would want to buy “A Senior Moment,” Safire’s answer was immediate. “When we get finished here today, unless I write it down, chances are I won’t remember your name,” Safire said. “But if I write it down, I’ll remember it. Remember your parents constantly telling you ‘to just write it down?’ Well, when you’re my age you definitely remember that saying. You know why? Because otherwise you forget everything.”

Bernie Safire will be at Diesel, A Bookstore at Cross Creek Road, signing copies of “A Senior Moment” on Sunday, Dec. 12, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.