Skin Deep

She's no doctor, but when the glitterati needed beauty triage during Miami's heyday, Ruth Regina always came through with coif medicine

Ruth Regina's Kane Concourse salon sports the kind of glitzy, Hollywood-French Provincial decor that Morris Lapidus designed for the Fontainebleau Hotel lobby in the Fifties. A curved red velvet loveseat and two white leather chairs surround a mirrored coffee table set with a plaster-of-Paris bust of a classical hero -- the only bald pate in the room. Heads with elaborate coifs and identically painted impertinent faces have been placed in careful rows on shelves along one wall and assembled more haphazardly atop two glass showcases. Outside, at the top of the store's glass faaade, a sculpted sign spells out the owner's name in fancy white script, the i in Regina dotted with a crown.

From a doorway at the back of the shop, Ruth Regina's own platinum head pops out, her shoulder-length hair parted on the side and curled, falling in a glamorous wave over one cheek in the style of a Forties pin-up girl. It's only 10:00 a.m., but Regina, who rose and put on her face hours ago in her bayview apartment at the Jockey Club, is dressed smartly in brown stretch slacks, a white silk blouse, a pink linen jacket, and gold jewelry. A pixieish woman petite even in high heels, she steps with a brisk showgirl's stride to the front of her store, smiling graciously.

"Shall we take the walk of the stars?" she asks with a tinkling laugh and makes a sweeping gesture around the shop, her perfectly manicured fingernails pointing the way.

A row of large photographs that hangs on the walls above the shelves, almost at the ceiling, upstages even the copious display of wigs in the crowded room. Honeymooner Art Carney. Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his sidekick Charlie McCarthy. Milton Berle, Jack Benny, and Gene Kelly together in one photo. Jack Paar, when he was host of the Tonight Show. As Regina reaches to point with a flourish and name the subjects in her gallery one by one, her silk sleeve slips up, revealing a hand mottled with age spots.

A perky brunette with a cluster of curls piled on top of her head and a perfect stroke of liquid eyeliner painted on the lids of her huge brown eyes appears in almost every picture: a much younger Ruth Regina. In one photo she poses with Judy Garland, who wears a white bathrobe and clings with visible force to Regina's arm. The picture is inscribed, "To darling Ruth, the wonder worker, love, Judy."

Toward the back of the shop, small framed photographs cover one wall next to the open doorway of a small workroom where four women are listening to Spanish-language talk radio while they weave individual hairs into delicate lace wig caps on wooden heads. Each wooden form is marked with a piece of masking tape bearing a client's name. Regina looks over one woman's shoulder, suggests that that more blond hair be added to a streaked page boy. "Mas claar-o," she says loudly, tugging on the wig. The woman nods silently. Regina has been teaching herself Spanish to communicate in the language of her staff of ten, most of whom are natives of Cuba or the Dominican Republic. It seems fair, she says. Having trained all of her craftswomen personally, she hovers over them with maternal concern. When it rains, she sends them home in cabs.

Outside the workroom, the shop owner continues the Walk of Fame, pointing out a picture of a young Elvis Presley ("A fine gentleman, and very nervous"). There's Al Pacino, during the filming of Scarface. Sam Donaldson sporting Seventies' sideburns. A slim Dom DeLuise. Tiny Tim ("He always liked to look pale for some reason"). Frank Sinatra in his salad days.

And the four Beatles sitting in a row on metal chairs, wearing identical velvet-trimmed suits, while Regina powders Ringo's face. Ed Sullivan can just be made out standing in the background.

"I was put under security with them," Regina relates, recalling the Fab Four's historic second Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1964, broadcast live from the Deauville Hotel. ""We had the police surrounding us. We went from the suite in the Deauville to the stage through the kitchen. Girls were all over us. It seemed like they popped out of the walls. When we were in their suite, we heard this roaring sound outside. It sounded like the ocean in a storm. I looked out the window and it was just girls, girls screaming, 'We love you!'

"I'll never forget it," she sighs. "I never asked for autographs. But Paul McCartney -- he was so polite -- he said, 'Miss Regina, would you like our autograph?' I looked up at him and said, 'Well, all right, Paul, that would be nice.'"

Next to the Beatles photo hangs a framed piece of Deauville stationery signed by Paul, John, George, and Ringo. The inscription: "To the best make-up artist in the business."

With the help of an assistant, Regina drags a small battered leather trunk from behind a counter. Popping open the metal fasteners, she lifts the lid. First she takes out a packet of letters she received from acclaimed Broadway producer George Abbott, whom she dated briefly in 1971, after the death of her first husband. (She would be widowed two more times.) She peeks at the letters, then puts them aside, reaching instead for three large, dusty scrapbooks.

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