June 25 (Bloomberg) -- Paula Kent Meehan, a television actress and Hollywood socialite who co-founded Redken Laboratories Inc. to provide scientifically formulated shampoo and conditioner to hair salons, has died. She was 82.
She died on June 23 at her home in Beverly Hills, California, according to an e-mailed statement from the company, now a unit of Paris-based L’Oreal SA. No cause was given.
Starting in the late 1950s, Meehan and her hairdresser, Jheri Redding, were among the first to use a scientific approach to develop products that promoted healthy hair and wouldn’t damage skin or scalp, according to a 1979 profile in the Los Angeles Times. In 1960, they formed Redken, a combination of the names Redding and Kent, and the company set up a research lab. Among their innovations was to take the protein content of hair and the acidity, or pH balance, of human skin into account.
Prell was the No. 1 shampoo brand at the time, according to Steve Goddard, a former Redken executive and founder of Pravana International, a Los Angeles-based hair products manufacturer.
“It was all about shine and fluff and the color of the product,” Goddard said yesterday in a telephone interview. “Now comes a company that says the products you use on your skin shouldn’t be a different pH. It was a new way of talking about the product’s effectiveness.”
Redken had $90,000 in sales in its first year, the Times reported. By 1988, the Canoga Park, California-based company had annual revenue of $120 million and more than 900 employees. That year, Meehan led a leveraged buyout of about $49 million for the 52 percent of the stock she didn’t already own, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In 1993, she sold Redken for an undisclosed sum to Cosmair Inc., L’Oreal’s U.S. distributor, which moved the company to New York City. Redken products are sold in more than 50 countries, the company said.
A longtime friend of actress Debbie Reynolds, Meehan had donated millions of dollars in support of the arts, including restoration of the Beverly Hills Post Office, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Meehan was born on Aug. 9, 1931. She grew up in Burbank, California, according to Marcia Hobbs, a long-time friend and publisher of the Beverly Hills Courier. Meehan was the daughter of Richard Moorehead and the former Lois Evelyn Martin, according to Marquis Who’s Who. Her father was an accountant, according to a 2004 profile in the Courier.
Meehan started appearing in TV shows at a young age, Hobbs said. Her roles included a hatcheck girl on the series “77 Sunset Strip,” according to a 1988 New York Times story.
She helped finance Redken with $3,800 earned from a Hamm’s beer commercial, Meehan said, according to a 1988 USA Today story. The ad was shot “in a park with a bear,” she said.
Meehan found inspiration for Redken from her own experience of frequent washing that was hard on her hair, and allergic reactions to hair spray, she told the Los Angeles Times.
“After painfully coming to the conclusion Hollywood wasn’t going to make me the next Joan Crawford, I wanted to control my own destiny,” Meehan said, according to the Courier profile.
In 1965, she bought out her partner, according to the corporate history. Redding, who went on to found Jhirmack Enterprises Inc. and Nexxus Products Co., also lent his name to the Jheri-curl hairstyle popularized by Michael Jackson and other celebrities.
In the 1970s, Redken began offering its products for retail purchase at salons, spurring growth, according to a 2004 article in American Salon magazine.
Meehan became a prominent philanthropist in Beverly Hills, where she lived in a home that previously belonged to Elvis Presley. In April she bought the Fine Arts Theater on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, hoping to renovate the classic Art Deco structure. She also purchased the local newspaper in May.
The Beverly Hills Courier “is the city’s one and only newspaper so it’s an integral part of it, and I want that to go on and on,” she wrote in a note published on its website. “I love where I live.”
In 1973, she married John Meehan, a former beauty salon magazine ad salesman who became chairman and president of Redken. He died in 2004.
Survivors include a son, Michael Miller, stepsons Chris Meehan and Matt Meehan, and two grandsons, Hobbs said.
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