Christine Mason, 49, stylist who created `character' hairdos for John Waters' films

October 18, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Christine Mason didn't just do hairdos. She created "characters" on actors' and actresses' heads.

Ms. Mason, whose behemoth beehives and other outrageous coiffeurs were comic highlights in five of Baltimore director John Waters' most popular films, died Monday of cervical cancer at home in Oliver Beach in eastern Baltimore County. She was 49.

Friends recalled Ms. Mason as a woman of multiple talents whose varied career included stints as a French-style chef, performance artist, costume designer and concert promoter.

But her best-known works were the 'dos she created as hairstylist and wigmaker for a series of Mr. Waters' films, including "Female Trouble," "Desperate Living," "Polyester," "Cry Baby" and "Hairspray."

Mr. Waters said yesterday that "nobody could tease a head like Christine Mason."

The director said Ms. Mason was masterful at re-creating some of the most "notorious" Baltimore hairdos of bygone years -- not just the beehive but also such styles as the double bubble, the artichoke and the airlift.

"Only Chris could bleach out a certain hideous color like they do in Baltimore," Mr. Waters said.

Ms. Mason's styles were based on "hair-hopper humor," he said.

"Chris understood the look of a hair hopper and she understood how to parody it," the director said. "I think Christine Mason's wigs in my films were characters of their own."

Among the performers for whom Ms. Mason created hairstyles were the late Divine, a female impersonator who starred in Mr. Waters' early films, and Edith Massey, a beloved if somewhat bizarre local legend.

Among other actresses with whom Ms. Mason worked were Ricki Lake, Debra Harry and Patricia Hearst.

Pat Moran, casting director and associate producer of the Waters films, said performers soon learned that Ms. Mason was hardly the typical deferential movie hairstylist.

"It was clearly Christine's ballgame. It wasn't your business to tell Christine the way it was supposed to look. That was up to her," Ms. Moran said.

She said Ms. Mason won people over with her sense of humor.

"She could trade barbs with the best of them," Ms. Moran said.

Ms. Mason's mother and sole survivor, Virginia Mason, also of Oliver Beach, said her daughter forged a second career as a French chef at such restaurants as Cacao Lane, Jean Claude's, Pacifica and Woody's at White Marsh. She attended then-Essex Community College and University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Ms. Mason's mother said that during the 1970s, her daughter staged shows at the Alcazar Theater in Baltimore, including "Denim and Pearls" with Ms. Massey. She also managed a bar and booked concerts for rock 'n' roll bands.

The one-time anti-war protester remained active in political causes, including feminist and gay rights organizations.

In recent years, Ms. Mason returned to hairstyling, working at the Just Cut It salon in Baltimore until she became too ill to continue in November.

A memorial service, planned by Ms. Mason herself, will be held at 7: 30 p.m. Nov. 5 at Gatch Memorial United Methodist Church at 5738 Belair Road.

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