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A 'Shampoo' and set

Warren Beatty's film inspired Jonathan Antin's career. Now on 'Blow Out' he's the star, opening a Beverly Hills salon as reality TV cameras roll.

June 06, 2004|Lisa Rosen | Special to The Times

For anyone who thinks movies don't influence kids, consider this: A young boy named Jonathan Antin watched the 1975 movie "Shampoo," in which a handsome hairstylist (Warren Beatty) worked his magic on the most desirable women in Los Angeles. Antin immediately decided that that was what he wanted to be when he grew up. By age 23, he had his own salon in West Hollywood, and his client list included Madonna, Kevin Costner, k.d. lang, Steve Tyler and Tiger Woods. Thank goodness he didn't watch "Scarface."

Not too long ago, a TV executive had a vision to revisit "Shampoo" as a reality show. Ben Silverman had achieved success with "The Restaurant," an NBC series that re-airs on Bravo, featuring the drama of starting up and running a restaurant in New York. He wanted to do the same with a salon on the other coast. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to follow a straight, single hairdresser going on a similar journey to the one that Warren Beatty went on in Beverly Hills?' " Silverman said.

The casting wasn't easy. "Finding a straight, single, charismatic, wild man chef [for 'The Restaurant'] was like shooting fish in a barrel," Silverman recalled. "Finding a straight, single, charismatic hairdresser was a whole lot tougher."

Eventually, he and Antin found each other. The resulting show, "Blow Out," will air on Bravo for six episodes beginning Tuesday.

Like the younger Beatty, Antin's telegenic appeal is immediately apparent. At age 36, he has chiseled good looks and a casual yet impeccable style. He's hip, tattooed, gregarious and given to wild hyperbole and the vocal stylings of a surfer dude. He refers to just about everyone he works with as a genius. "He's very passionate and serious about hair, which I think is both amusing and cool," said Silverman, who can't quite grasp how important a haircut can be. "He's incredibly earnest and funny and charming, but also aggressive. He's not scared of confrontation. And he has a huge ego, all of which also enables a good character."

Antin had been planning to open a new salon at the Argyle Hotel on Sunset, but the owner wasn't interested in a reality show filming on the premises. So Antin set his sights on Beverly Hills, where he'd grown up. He found a location on Wilshire Boulevard near Roxbury Drive, and he used architect Ron Radziner of the L.A. firm Marmol Radziner and Associates to help him create his dream salon.

A week before the salon was set to open, Antin and a film crew watched as a slew of construction workers tried to finish the job on time. It didn't look promising. Standing in the alley behind the shop, Antin couldn't remember the last time he'd gotten any sleep, between overseeing construction, hiring for the new place, preparing to open and running his West Hollywood salon.

The show is likely to change Antin's life -- one way or another. "The Restaurant's" chef, Rocco DiSpirito, has become a star, with cookbooks and a line of cookware. The show drew respectable ratings when it debuted on NBC last year; when it was broadcast on Bravo, it almost tripled the cable channel's previous ratings for that time period. But after an auspicious start -- thanks to all the publicity -- the restaurant itself is in trouble, caught up in lawsuits between DiSpirito and his partner and financial backer, Jeffrey Chodorow.

"The restaurant would have done great if they didn't have their legal feud, which basically caused them both to not pay attention to it," Silverman said.

The show didn't create the legal wranglings, but surely the problems of one little restaurant wouldn't have amounted to a hill of beans -- let alone national news -- had it not been televised.

Bucking the odds

For Antin, the new salon is a homecoming he never expected. "It was kind of an emotional thing for me to start looking around Beverly Hills for a salon, because I was a black sheep; I was the least likely to succeed in school," he explained. He talked of finding the location, wiping a clear spot off the dirty window and looking inside, and then he stopped his story, briefly choking up.

He put on his sunglasses and continued. "It was just kind of a heavy thing for me. Because it was like no way in a million -- look, I had this tattoo in 10th grade." He displayed the image of a gangster inked on his arm. "I was not at all supposed to be an owner of a business in Beverly Hills ... The concept that I got the show or that I was going to open a salon, or even that my life savings would even be enough ... " He stopped again, then asked, "You're not going to write that I got emotional while I was talking, are you?" When answered in the affirmative, he smiled and shrugged it off. "Whatever."

Suddenly, the crew ran by to film the building inspector as he pulled up to the curb in his black Hummer with vanity license plates. He parked illegally, of course. Silverman was thrilled. "I couldn't ask for that!"

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