Tahoe’s glamorous history
February 7, 2013
Manny Munoz started styling hair in the South Shore at a time when singing legends like Frank Sinatra would saunter through the salon doors and Elvis Presley could electrify the city. “You never knew in this town who you would run into,” Munoz said. “Tahoe’s lost that human touch. It’s all so corporate. It’s not friendly like it used to be.” Munoz moved to Tahoe in November 1974 because his wife, Pam, wanted to live in the mountains. He worked odd jobs around Stateline for six months before landing a job at Jerome’s Hair Fashion salon in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. For a young man raised by Mexican immigrants in Southern California, the casinos represented what Munoz called “the big time.” A glitzy stream of celebrities flowed through the South Shore, many of whom passed in front of Munoz’s mirror. He styled Jane Morgan’s hair — the American singer asked him to travel the world as her personal hair dresser, but Munoz refused on account of his wife — and Barbara Sinatra became one of his most loyal customers. Her husband liked one of Munoz’s drawings so much he hung the image in his office, but Munoz was careful to avoid any mention of Marilyn Monroe within earshot of Barbara Sinatra. “She was really pretty, really sweet and really classy,” Munoz said of the former model and Frank Sinatra’s fourth and final wife. An autographed photograph of the Sinatras hangs by Munoz’s chair in the Emerald Bay Hair & Nail Salon, the shop where he currently works. Just above the image is a framed photo from Neil Sedaka thanking Munoz for his work in a thick, black scrawl. The wife of the singer and composer came to Munoz to style her hair, but she maintained her aloofness. Some famous people were just like that, Munoz said, but most of them were cordial and kind. “She wouldn’t break down and talk to me. I was too nosy,” he remembered with a smile. Munoz saw Bette Midler stroll the casino floor on a film shoot, and heard Tom Jones open for Caesar’s showroom. He cut the hair of Harvey Gross’ wife and admired the fancy cars the casino magnet would exhibit downtown. The Killebrews, a family that changed the face of the the local ski industry, were some of his best clients. Margaret Park Pruett, a member of one of Tahoe original families, passed through his salon chair, while actress Jeanette Nolan would visit him before any South Shore parties. He watched Cher and her entourage light up the dance floor. “I never planned it, it just happened to me. They liked my work. I had fun doing the hair. Otherwise I wouldn’t have met all these people,” Munoz said. It was a gilded era of entertainment in Tahoe’s history, and drug use went hand in hand with the electric nightlife. A fashion model once left three lines of cocaine on Munoz’s mirror —it was his tip —while women would occasionally invite him into the hotel room. One particularly memorable client offered him “elephant tranquilizer” wrapped in a joint and invited him to relax on the bed before styling her hair. “It sounded kind of fishy to me,” Munoz said. Munoz skipped the party and came home to his wife, a woman he said supported him throughout his career. It was Pam Munoz who convinced him to pursue cosmetology and to leave Pasadena for the high country. She served as Munoz’s model during hairstyle competitions and helped him open their own shop in 1992 near Stateline. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. She was the brains of the family,” Munoz said.The couple called the salon Manny’s Hairloom, but the Marriott tore the building down when the new hotel went up. Munoz went back to styling hair at other people’s shops, a dark period he called “very depressing.” He met Julie Waller, owner of the Emerald Bay Hair Salon, five years ago and now works part time at Waller’s salon. “He’s a character,” Waller said. “He’s a lot of fun. He has a very caring heart. He takes such good care of his little old clients, some of whom have been with him for 100 years.” Munoz picked up one of his longtime customers, Trudy Greenough, Wednesday from her home on Pioneer Trail. Since Greenough’s husband passed away, Munoz drives the retired Lake Tahoe Unified School District teacher to Emerald Bay to style her hair. Neither can remember when they met, but Greenough said she would follow Munoz every time he transferred shops. When Munoz’s wife passed away in 2009, he wanted to commemorate her memory, so he bound a series of his historic drawings in a calendar and dedicated the piece to Pam Munoz. The images take the viewer back to the city’s early days, showing what sites in Tahoe and Virginia City looked like at the start of the 20th century. Munoz started drawing when he was 15 years old, but it remained a hobby as hair styling became his career. He plans to print one more calendar next year to mark his 75th birthday and celebrate his wife’s memory. “I wanted to do something with her name on it. I had told her to wait for me. They say when you marry, pick a good wife so she’ll take you to heaven. And she was wonderful,” Munoz said.