Kenneth Everette Batelle (commonly known as Mr. Kenneth) was New York’s leading celebrity hairstylist from the 1950’s.
Kenneth was the oldest son with four young sisters and at just 12 years of age his father divorced his mother, leaving Kenneth to support his family. For 5 years he did this selling beer at events and working as an elevator operator. Until he turned 17 and joined the Navy for 18 months, after which he studied at Syracuse university for 6 months before dropping out due to funds running out. This is where Mr. Kenneth began to find his passion in hair.
While still trying to support himself and his family, Kenneth stumbled upon an advertisement for the Wanamaker Academy of Beauty in New York that promised $100-a-week jobs to their graduates. He supported his studies through playing piano at a small bar and working for a restaurant for 6 months, before continuing his studies at the Marinello Academy of Beauty Culture in Syracuse. After graduating he found himself working at the Starlet Beauty Bar for 4 years where he was fondly known for creating a 1930’s inspired variation on “the bob” called the “club cut”. After this, in Oct. 1949, he moved to Miami to work in a hotel salon. Then, in July 1950, moved to Manhattan, NY where he was offered a job by Elizabeth Arden in Kentucky. Rather than moving out of New York so soon, he accepted a job with Helena Rubinstein at 52nd & Fifth instead, where he worked for the next 5 years. This is where he first met Jacqueline Kennedy in 1954. The newlywed Mrs. Kennedy had dropped in to see her usual hairdresser, but learned he was away sick. Kenneth stepped in suggesting she grow out her unflattering, short, layered ‘italian’ hairstyle and move towards something longer and more appealing. For this, Mrs. Kennedy had large rollers specially made to stretch and lengthen her hair, creating a softer look. This was a huge contrast to the ever-popular over processed perm and lack lustre hairstyles women were receiving at the time.
Kenneth then became widely known for creating beautiful and different styles; hair that could move and still fall back into shape. It was important to him that his clients could wash their hair and maintain the appearance themselves.
After his 5 years with 52nd & Fifth was over Kenneth started work with Lilly Daché. Lilly operated a salon which Kenneth was hired to run and it became to most import ant hairdressing venue in New York. Among his clientele at Lilly’s salon was Lucille Ball, actress Kay Kendall and Marilyn Monroe -who was complaining that over bleaching and over perming was making her hair fall out- Kenneth softened and straightened Marilyn’s hair and became her hairdresser of choice while she was in New York City and even travelled with her to Chicago for the Some Like It Hot Premier and later became close friends with her.
From 1996 to 1990 Kenneth took out a lease on a multi story building on 54th street. This was where he worked until, on May 16 1990, the building caught fire and burned the entire 5-story building.
Kenneth continued hairdressing but after a rival hairstylist managed to take a lot of his clientele, business began to slow. Despite it all Kenneth continued with his passion in hair until his death in 2013.