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

In one photo she is clad in a fluffy Angora sweater, her hair curled and pulled back in a high ponytail. She poses with a small stuffed horse, which has a ponytail similar to her own attached to its rear end. The photo was taken in 1948; Regina looks to be about twenty.

"I was a mere child," she says, but refuses to reveal her exact age. ("There are some things a lady just does not discuss.")

Ruth and her parents, Joseph and Frieda Rozini, moved to Miami in 1945 from Chicago. Russian-Italian Jews, the Rozinis were wigmakers who immigrated to America and set up shop in the Windy City before Ruth was born. According to family legend, Joseph Rozini came from eight generations of hair-goods manufacturers and wig stylers, extending all the way back to a relative who made hairpieces for members of the French Court. Regina likes to refer to wigmaking as "the second oldest profession."

In Miami the Rozinis opened a small shop on Flagler Street downtown. In 1948, Ruth, who had been learning the business from her parents since the age of seven, went out on her own. Taking her first and middle names as her professional moniker, she opened a wig stand stocked with Rozini hair goods in Mario's Beauty Shop on the 500 block of the then-glamorous Lincoln Road. When Joseph Rozini died three years later, Frieda joined Ruth in Miami Beach. One photo shows an elegant woman with a gray crown of braids, weaving a wig at age 85. She lived to be a hundred.

In the early Fifties, Regina opened her own salon on 74th and Collins, complete with zebra-pattern fabric on the walls and hairdresser's chairs covered in gray vinyl snakeskin.

"Ruth Regina was the premier artist of the time," says long-time Miami Beach publicity czar Charlie Cinnamon. "Everyone knew she was the gal to go to if you needed, shall we say, a better hair day."

As her father had done, Regina began doing hair and makeup for the stage. One scrapbook page contains programs for several local productions from the Fifties: Annie Get Your Gun with Martha Raye and The Play's the Thing with Uta Hagen, both staged at the Cameo Playhouse (now the Cameo Theatre) on Washington Avenue; The Moon is Blue at the Roosevelt Playhouse on 41st Street, starring Kim Hunter.

But it was television that provided the biggest career boost. In 1954, five years after it had taken to the airwaves, local station WTVJ-TV became a CBS affiliate, and Ruth Regina was asked to do hair and makeup for The Big Payoff, a network game show hosted by onetime Miss America Bess Myerson. Once on the network's roster, she was able to travel to New York to study with the top make-up artists at CBS. She trained in character makeup and cosmetic special effects, learning to create lifelike wrinkles, bruises, and and bloody noses. She joined the make-up artists and hairstylists union, Local 798, in 1959. She is still a member.

In 1960 the Miss Universe pageant moved from Long Beach, California, to the Miami Beach Convention Hall. Regina worked on the annual program for fourteen years, encouraging contestants to "walk like a winner." Scrapbook snapshots depict her drying tiara-wearing girls' tears so their mascara wouldn't run on-camera.

Also in 1960, Elvis Presley, fresh out of the service, joined Frank Sinatra on-stage in the Fontainebleau's La Ronde Room (now the Tropigala). Regina did their makeup. "It seemed as if exciting things were always happening," she says, poring over undated clips from old gossip columns. "Interesting things. Unusual things."

One newspaper item relates an episode in which singer Billy "Black Magic" Daniels had a vicious argument with his wife in their suite at the Eden Roc. She retaliated by hiding his two toupees several hours before his Saturday-night performance there. The hotel's owner summoned Regina, who rushed over a salt-and-pepper hairpiece she had stashed in a drawer.

Another night she got a call from the Fontainebleau, where Judy Garland, then in the declining days of her career, was scheduled to sing.

"She had a little accident," Regina confides, whispering so that a client who has come in for a fitting won't hear. "She fell down in her dressing room and hit her head. They called me over. She was bleeding, her forehead was all bruised. But I got her fixed up. She could go on with the show. That's why she called me her wonder worker."

The Gigi Room and the Boom Boom Room at the Fontainebleau. The Mona Lisa Room at the Eden Roc. "Those were the places where the celebrities would be found on a Saturday night," says Regina, her eyes sparkling. "I like to dance. I always enjoyed going out and having fun. Always. I was never too tired."

Edna Buchanan first met Regina when Buchanan was a reporter for the Miami News. "Ruth was one of the people that everybody knew. She was in great demand by all the major stars. They loved her," says the police desk virtuoso turned novelist. "She is one of the few people left from those good old days when Miami Beach was a sleepy Southern resort city that closed down in the off-season."

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