If there’s any truth to “The higher the hair, the closer to God,” then Margaret Vinci Heldt was a high priestess.
Without Mrs. Heldt — the Chicago beautician who invented the beehive hairdo in 1960 — Marge Simpson would be a lot shorter. Not to mention the B-52s, Brigitte Bardot and the Ronettes.
Ratted, sprayed and shellacked, able to jump half a foot in height in a single salon appointment, her conical creation meant that Chicago, for a time, stole away the title John Waters gave to Baltimore: “Hairdo Capitol of the World.”
Mrs. Heldt, 98, died Friday at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital.
“I have love in my heart for hairdressers,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. “I was privileged to give something to our profession that became a classic.”
She added, “I don’t know how we could have done it without hairspray.”
Fifty-six years after she birthed the beehive, it’s a hardy perennial on red carpets and world stages. Amy Winehouse was one of its foremost practitioners. Adele and the queen of the “Beyhive” herself — Beyonce — also have sported the style.
The Chicago History Museum recognized Mrs. Heldt with an exhibit featuring her history-making mannequin head, styled with the altitudinous ‘do.
Mrs. Heldt was known around the world for her creation, said a protegee, Mario Tricoci, founder of Mario Tricoci hair salons and Mario Tricoci University.
“Not only was she a Chicago icon,” Tricoci said, “she certainly had a large influence on young hairdressers since 1956. She was a master hairdresser at the Midwest Beauty Show . . . lending her knowledge to anyone that wanted to be inspired.”
A 1938 graduate of Columbia Beauty School, she won a 1954 National Hairdresser of the Year Competition, as well as many styling contests in Europe, according to her daughter, Carlene Ziegler. She established Margaret Vinci Coiffures at 30 N. Michigan Ave., operating it in the 1950s and 1960s.
The birth of the beehive came when Modern Beauty Shop magazine — now Modern Salon — approached Mrs. Heldt and asked her to develop something fresh and exciting. Inspired by the shape of a favorite fez hat with some bumblebee decorations, she developed the beehive.
“And just like that,” according to the history museum’s blog, “a style icon was born right here in Chicago.”
“It was an instant hit,” Heldt said in a 2011 interview with the Toronto Star. “It made women feel taller and more elegant, refined and glamorous.”
“I had no idea back then it would still be around,” she told the Sun-Times in 1991. “This is so much fun.”
Young Margaret grew up on the West Side, the daughter of Sicilian immigrants Frank and Francesca Vinci. She went to Calhoun grade school and attended high school at Our Lady of Sorrows and Lucy Flower.
Though they didn’t speak English, her parents supported the dreams of their daughter.
“She decided she wanted to be a hairdresser when she was about 5,” said Carlene Ziegler. Her parents “got her scissors and combs and curlers and let her do the neighbors’ hair.”
At her salon, “All of the celebrities and society ladies came there,” her daughter said. Whenever Carol Channing was in town in a touring show, “She would always come in to get her hair done.”
Channing thought so highly of Mrs. Heldt that she did her a Broadway-sized favor while she was in town performing in “Hello, Dolly!” Mrs. Heldt was scheduled to appear as Dolly Levi in a revue at the Midwest Beauty trade show, now called Hair America, her daughter said, and Channing lent her one of the show’s costumes so Mrs. Heldt could parade around in plumed style.
She met her late German-American husband, Carl Ludwig Heldt, at a dance.
“The first time he came to my grandparents’ home for dinner, he didn’t know how to eat spaghetti,” their daughter said.
His job at a weatherstripping company had regular hours compared with Mrs. Heldt’s salon, so he managed many household duties, including cooking, the daughter said. “She didn’t know the inside of an oven.”
Effervescent and positive to the end of her life, Mrs. Heldt liked a Grey Goose dirty martini — even asking for one at the hospital — and enjoyed the company of a gentleman friend at Lexington senior living in Elmhurst.
“They would have their cocktail and go down to dinner at 4:30, and then they would watch ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ ” her daughter said.
“Margaret was a member and inspiration to Cosmetologists Chicago since 1938,” said Paul Dykstra, chief executive officer of the group’s trade event — America’s Beauty Show — in an interview with Modern Salon. “We dedicated our 2010 America’s Beauty Show to Margaret — a hair stylist, fashion innovator, salon owner, educator, champion, member and dear, dear friend to many.”
Mrs. Heldt is also survived by a son, William; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Visitation is 3 to 8 p.m. at Ahlgrim Funeral Home in Elmhurst. A funeral Mass is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Visitation Parish in Elmhurst.