Mary Ann Valdes: Career of a TV hairstylist, Part 2

Rosanne Ullman | July 10, 2011 | 10:12 AM

It was the task of hairstylist Mary Ann Valdes to make it look as if a cigarette set someone's hair on fire. She chose a blonde, human-hair wig. The black char marks would stand out nicely on the light color, and the human hair would burn in dramatic fashion, whereas synthetic hair would simply melt. The stunt came off perfectly on the first take, although Valdes concedes that the stench of burnt human hair polluted the stage for hours.

That's just all in a day's work for Valdes, the head hairstylist on the set of ABC's popular "Ugly Betty" series. The scene occurred in season one, with Betty's sister Hilda accidentally lighting up the hair on a model at Mode Magazine. Valdes received an Emmy nomination for the first season of "Betty." It was her second; a few years earlier she'd been nominated for her work on "American Dreams."

work hard and fast

For professional hairdressers who would like to get into this line of work, Valdes recommends first working in a salon. "Practice doing all kinds of heads, all types of hair, all age groups and different personalities," she advises. "Learn every aspect of the craft; you'll have to do roller setting and pincurls, not just cuts and blowdries. You must be able to do it all and do it quickly, since in production time is money. The more you practice, the faster you'll get."

Valdes puts in long days, and the job also requires a lot of research for fantasy sequences and period styling. Any flashback or historical work must be credible. "American Dreams" was set in the 1960s, and Valdes had to create appropriate flips and pageboys for the cast.

One of the greatest challenges is getting actors to look as if it's only an hour later when, really, it's been a week or a month, Valdes says. "Frequently, we have to do the same cut over and over," she explains. "I did one movie that took 11 weeks to shoot, but the story took place over only 28 hours. Once a week I cut the actors' hair just the tiniest bit so that any growth wouldn't show." On a TV series, recurring guest stars may show up with their hair a shade completely different from the last time you saw them. Whether you use wigs or recolor their hair, you must make them look like the characters they play on that show.

start small

Typically, wigs play a big role in hairdressing on set. Valdes rotates two wigs for "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrara so that Ferrara doesn't have to be quite so Betty-like when she's off-set. To get proficient at wig styling, Valdes took classes, practiced and asked a lot of questions. Says Valdes, "You can never stop learning in this business!"

When you're ready, try to get work with a small production. The first assignment for Valdes was a commercial that was shooting in her local Miami market. To read more of her backstory, go to "Mary Ann Valdes: Sitting Pretty on the Set of Ugly" right here on

Facebook Comments

More from Students

Students Paul Mitchell the School in Charlotte, North Carolina via Facebook.

Paul Mitchell Schools Remember 9/11

Michaela Kwoka-Coleman | September 8, 2017

The 110-plus schools host a variety of events, including fundraisers for local police, firefighters, their widows and orphans funds, and even for rescue dogs.

Load More