Larry Oakley, a barber who owned the oldest business in Westwood Village -- a shop his family opened in 1929 -- and who counted celebrities including Howard Hughes and Bing Crosby among his regular customers, has died. He was 80.
Oakley, who lived in Mar Vista, died Wednesday at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital in Marina del Rey of complications from a staph infection, said Clinton Schudy, who manages Oakley's Barber Shop and will take over the business.
In the 1920s, Oakley's uncle was cutting hair on Vermont Avenue across from the original UCLA campus when Westwood Village developer Edwin Janss made him an offer.
"He said, 'Bert, we're opening a big shopping center at UCLA. You move your shop over there and we'll give you six months of free rent.' He wanted to attract people from the school to the shopping area," Oakley told The Times in 2004.
By 1930, another family barber -- Oakley's father, James -- had been summoned from Utah to join the business, and 3-year-old Larry Oakley came west with his family.
Movie stars and other celebrities who lived in Brentwood and nearby neighborhoods often patronized the family shop, which had two Westwood locations before settling on Gayley Avenue in 1957.
Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper and Red Skelton were frequent early clients of the Oakleys. Banker George Temple was known to balance his daughter, actress Shirley, on his knee while getting biweekly trims. More recently, tennis' Pete Sampras sat in Oakley's chrome chair.
His longest-running customer was tennis great Jack Kramer, who went to Oakley for about 57 years.
"Larry's shop was a hangout for everybody in the sports world, particularly those connected with UCLA," Kramer told The Times on Monday. "He was delightful, and he had a fabulous memory for jokes. You could always count on him . . . to bust you up."
After Oakley started cutting hair in 1948, one of his first clients was the billionaire Hughes.
"I cut Howard Hughes' hair almost until he died" in 1976, Oakley told The Times in 2004. "I was the new guy in the back the first time he walked in, so they sent him back to me. He was in paint-spattered work clothes, kind of like a bum.
"He'd give me $20 for a $1 haircut," Oakley marveled.
In the 1960s and '70s, when long hair was the rage, the shop went from seven barbers to two. Oakley, who cut hair until about two months ago, would joke that he kept working because he used up his retirement funds keeping the business open.
Inside the shop, he had a tiny tonsorial museum that included vintage shaving brushes, antique hair tonic bottles and the "singe tape" once used to burn off uneven ends of hair for a smooth haircut.
He was born Sept. 5, 1927, in Utah. His grandfather was also a barber.
During World War II, Oakley served in the Navy and witnessed the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Every Dec. 7, he would hang a "Remember Pearl Harbor" sign and share his scrapbook that documented the event. Then he would do what many clients said Oakley did exceedingly well: tell a story and bring history alive.
Oakley, who was a widower, is survived by his daughter, Janice Khedari; son, Dennis Oakley; brother, Fred Oakley; and grandchildren.
Services will be at 2 p.m. July 26 at the chapel at Holy Cross Cemetery, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City. An open house in his memory will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. July 27 at Oakley's Barber Shop, 1061 Gayley Ave.