By Mary N. DiZazzo

"Most likely to succeed hairdresser"
--From the high school yearbook of Olive Lee Benson (1932-2005)

Ciao bella,

Truly cut out to be a hairdresser, Olive Lee Benson was raised along with her nine siblings in Cambridge, Mass. During those hard times of the 1930s and '40s she made money as a kid fixing her neighbors' hair. She reached "coiffeur stardom" as she opened her ethnic specialty hair salons throughout Boston. She resolved her battles with discrimination by breaking down the barrier.

Once denied space on Boston's Boylston Street, she called her white attorney and he rented the space, in turn giving it to her and stated to the owner that he had violated the state law by refusing to rent to her.

Using as her role model Madame C. J. Walker who developed a hair care and cosmetics business just around the turn of the twentieth century and became the first Black self-made woman millionaire. Ms. Benson's clientele included Diana Ross, The Temptations, Maria Cole (wife of Nat King Cole), Liz Walker, as well as the wife of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many, many more.

Specializing in the styling of excessively curly hair of all ethnicities, Ms. Benson won several trophies and received numerous awards for excelling in her profession. Her accolades are truly remarkable as we remember this journey of success.

Buona giornata and God bless the United States of America!


Have you missed any of Mary's columns in the Post-Gazette? Read prior weeks' "All That Zazz" columns on her website She is a third-generation cosmetologist and owner of Mary for Nails, etc. natural nailcare salon in Andover, and a Massachusetts distributor of Kosmea brand rose hip oil products. She may be contacted at (978) 470-8183. She also sees select clients by appointment in Boston at (617) 742-6881.