Plagued by an allergy to hair products, a young actress and model named Paula Kent in 1960 took the $3,000 she earned for appearing in a Hamm’s beer commercial and co-founded Redken, one of the first companies to make hypoallergenic hair sprays.
She went on to build a beauty-products empire in Southern California that helped pioneer the teaching of hair chemistry to stylists who sold Redken’s protein-rich products out of their salons. During the 1970s and ‘80s, she was often named as a top female business owner by such publications as Working Woman and the Los Angeles Business Journal.
In the 1960s, the budding executive brought London stylist Vidal Sassoon to Los Angeles to show off the “bob” haircut he had created for British designer Mary Quant, and the look took off.
Paula Kent Meehan, who became a noted philanthropist, died Monday at her home in Beverly Hills after months of battling lung infections. She was 82.
Her death was announced by the Beverly Hills Courier, a local weekly tabloid newspaper that she bought in May.
Meehan was born Aug. 9, 1931, in Beverly Hills. Her father, an accountant, took a job with Fox Film Corp., but the family later resettled in Burbank when he started his own accounting business.
Meehan aspired to be an actress but dropped out of high school, married and became a mother in her mid-teens. While seeking acting jobs (including a bit part as a hat-check girl on TV’s “77 Sunset Strip”), she worked as a gas station attendant and secretary. She treated herself to a regular hair appointment at the old House of Westmore on Sunset Boulevard.
After a time, the hours spent with studio makeup artists and hairdressers took their toll as she began having allergic reactions to the chemicals in hair sprays. She consulted Jheri Redding, a beauty salon owner who was married to a friend. She ditched the acting business and, with Redding, formed Redken Laboratories. By 1965, she had full ownership.
In the early 1970s, the company had its initial public offering of stock, and Paula Kent married John Meehan, a successful advertising executive. Redken moved into a 250,000-square-foot headquarters, manufacturing and research facility in Canoga Park.
L’Oreal bought Redken in 1993, and the company now has its headquarters on 5th Avenue in New York.
Meehan was famous the world over. Linda Briskman, a former Beverly Hills councilwoman, recalled visiting a Redken beauty salon in a hotel where she stayed during a trip to South Africa. “I mentioned I knew her, and you’d have thought I said I knew the president of the United States,” Briskman said. “She was like a goddess.”
Meehan devoted much of her life to charity. She formed a pet rescue organization called Pets 90210 — the Pet Care Foundation. She donated to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and the Beverly Hills 9/11 Memorial Garden.
Earlier this year she also bought the shuttered Art Deco-style Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills with the intention of reopening it to put on live performances.
“She was a philanthropist beyond words,” said Beverly Hills Police Chief David Snowden, a close friend. “There’s not much in our community that she wasn’t behind.”
John Meehan died in 2004. Meehan is survived by her son, Michael Miller, as well as two stepsons and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.