Joseph “Joe” Torrenueva was born in New York but moved to East Los Angeles with his brother Vince (CHS ’56), sister Myrta,and mother Sixta, at a young age. While in East Los Angeles, he attended Santa Isabel elementary school and quickly learned and adapted to his new environment. Self motivated, Joe understood the financial difficulties his family faced after his father’s death at a young age. It was at this time when he developed a new talent….cutting hair.
As Joe recalls, “my stepfather would always cut my hair and my brother’s hair. What he did not realize was that I would then go into the bathroom and quietly trim it a little bit here and there until it was the way I liked it”. Next thing you know, Joe was now cutting hair for his entire family.
It was at this time too that Joe was to decide where he would go for high school. Though just living near 8th street, a short distance from Salesian High, he would follow in his brother Vince’s steps by attending Cathedral High School. Joe would be the only boy from his elementary class heading there.
Joe’s way of getting to Cathedral each morning was quite different from any other student. Unlike most students, who would take the same route to school, whether by bus, foot, bike, or car, Joe took several different bus routes each week. On some days, Joe would take the 52 bus line, because it was occupied by the cute girls of Sacred Heart, who were heading to school. On other days, he would take the 47 bus line, because that bus was occupied by the cute girls of both Loretto and Bishop Conaty, also heading to school.
Eighty-plus years of CHS graduates and I am guessing Joe is the only Phantom to this day ever capable of doing this each morning.
During his time at Cathedral, Joe assisted with the financial obligations around the house by now cutting his classmates’ hair, by having a paper route, and by working at a local drug store. Always a personable individual, he stayed out of the gang activity that surrounded his community. He participated in sports and served as an alter boy at Santa Isabel. Joe has always credited his success to his mother, who in the light of several challenges, provided consistent love and support.
Another way Joe was earning money was by peforming in front of dance hall crowds under the name of Joe Trenay. He also played with such bands as The Skylighters, The Bob Caro Band, and Rene Block. It was at this time in his life that things were about to change.
It was 1959 and a friend by the name of William (still a close friend to this day) suggested the two check out this hair salon on Melrose and Fairfax by the name of “Sebring’s”. It was owned and operated by Jay Sebring, the hairdresser to the stars at the time. Jay was the first hairstylist to wash and shampoo hair, before cutting it, only to then finish it off with gel, hairspray, and/or hair drying. No one at the time was cutting hair like Jay. Both Joe and William were amazed at the skills of this talented man. Joe knew that this was not going to be the last meeting with him.
With his 1961 CHS graduation now by, Joe already knew what his future was going to be. Both he and William would be enrolling in the Comer and Doran beauty school, once located on Hollywood and Ivar. It was the school where many of the best hairdressers had once attended, including Jay Sebring. With his experience of haircutting, his years of reading hair fashion magazines (given to him occasionally by his mom’s friend), and his determination, the most important 9 months of Joe’s life was about to begin.
Now 1962, and having completed beauty school, Joe was determined to work for the man he had first heard about just 3 years earlier while still attending Cathedral. With the help of 2 models, young Joe walked into Sebring’s place and presented his hairdressing skills to Jay, who was greatly impressed. Joe was hired immediately and a new friendship was born. Joe would work for Jay Sebring until 1966, when Joe would set out for his own hair salon on the Sunset Strip, just across the street from the Roxy. Still, Joe and Jay’s friendship would take off, even through some tough times from the opposition.
It was during this friendship that a bit of controversy was arising. It seemed that a group of barbers were protesting that fact that “hairdressers” were now “cutting hair”, just like barbers were. With the help of a client, Joe and Jay were introduced to then Orange County Assemblyman Ken Cory. At this time, Joe and Jay would form the “International hair designers guild”. With the help of Assemblyman Cory, the two helped pass a bill in Sacramento that would give hairdressers the opportunity of taking the barber test without going to school for it. This bill opened the door for other hairdressers who also wanted to cut men’s hair the same way barbers did. This not only would go down as a great moment in the history of hairdressing, it would be a proud moment for the two young hairdressers.
In 1969, Joe would end up taking the barber test and would pass with flying colors. Sadly, Jay did not get that chance to take it. On the week that the test was to take place, Jay Sebring, along with a few notable friends, would fall victim to the infamous followers of Charles Manson.
It was now the 1970’s. Joe would continue his business on the Strip before expressing interest in a new location over at the Sunset Plaza in 1979. It was said that when Joe first talked to the Montgomery Brothers, who owned the land that both the vacant building Joe was interested in and the Sunset Plaza fell on (and whose family still continues to own today), they were impressed with Joe when he told them during his interview with them that he was a Cathedral graduate (it turned out the brothers were Loyola graduates). Joe would call the location on Sunset Plaza his new home away from home for the next decade or so. With rent costs rising and more traffic congesting the area, Joe would move once again to a new location in Beverly Hills, where he has still been at since 1992.
Joe, the hairstylist to the stars, has worked on set and in person with Marlon Brando, Bob Barker, Norman Lear, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Wagner, and longtime friend Martin Sheen, who Joe participates with in many social events and marches.
Check out Joe and some of his famous clients on YouTube by searching “Torrenueva Teaser”.
Joe’s contribution to shaping pop culture is evident through his work in various films and television series. Joe has been credited for the slick-back hair look of Michael Douglas in Wall Street (and later made popular with Pat Riley during the Lakers “Showtime” era) as well as the hair style of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. He also was the hair stylist to such classic TV shows as Get Smart, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Rockford Files, and Hart to Hart. He has also appeared on such shows as Spencer for hire, Melrose Place, and Beverly Hills 90210. He is experienced in martial arts (having once trained with Bruce Lee) and even had the privilege of performing on stage with Tito Puente and Celia Cruz (he studied trumpet and French horn while at CHS).
As for his association with Cathedral today, since 2006, he has served on the School’s Board of Trustees and even once served as the treasurer for the Alumni Association, alongside the late Ray Meza ’54 and Danny Loya ’56, the cousin of Joe’s wife of roughly 50 years, Olivia (a Sacred Heart graduate). As for the importance of Joe giving back to Cathedral, “I see these CHS kids and I see myself. The Christian Brothers, who I have always seen as “my big brothers”, made Cathedral a safe place and a home away from home. They made me who I am today. These kids deserve a shot and it’s our obligation as Cathedral alumni to give back and help”.
Here’s to Joe Torrenueva ’61, our CHS Alumni spotlight recipient for the fall of 2013.