Face to Face: Confessions of a Hollywood Plastic Surgeon
By Lowri Turner
HIS NAME IS WHISPERED DISCREETLY between the racks of all those thousand-dollar frocks on Rodeo Drive, but he’s not a fashion designer. His telephone number appears in the swishest Malibu beach house address books, but he’s not a film director. Yet Toby Mayer is still one of Hollywood’s favourite men. He’s a plastic surgeon. Correction: he is the plastic surgeon to the stars . . .
‘Everyone in Hollywood has had surgery,’ says Toby Mayer, surgeon to the stars. At a glance he can tell who’s been nipped and tucked-but how can he be so sure? Lowri Turner quizzes him on the knifestyles of the rich and famous
If it needs lifting, tucking, smoothing, sucking out or puffing up, Toby Mayer’s number is the one that all Tinseltown calls. From his office, a mere diamond bracelet’s toss from Harry Winston in Beverly Hills (and yes, the area code really is 90210), Mayer ministers to the needs of the rich and determinedly un-wrinkled. He chisels noses, whittles chins, and sculpts cheekbones so subtly, you can’t tell it’s been done. Thighs are smoothed, stomachs flattened eye bags made to disappear and, most importantly, egos boosted by the work of Mayer’s miracle scalpel. He may not be God but, as the answer to the panicky prayers of everyone whose face and figure is their fortune, in Hollywood, hey, he’s close enough.
In person, Mayer is smooth, urbane, with a tan the right side of George Hamilton tangerine and a fit, 53-year-old physique that is an impressive testament to that typically Californian, ‘all-fat-is-slow-suicide’ diet – ‘my secretary always picks up something light for lunch, some chicken, a little pasta . . . ‘ Three afternoons a week you’ll find him on the polo field. Of his 14 polo ponies, only one has gone under the knife. A mole was removed ‘as a favour’ although to whom – horse or rider? – is unclear.
Mayer’s verdict: ‘She looks kind of strange. I think the chin implants are wrong. I don’t like them to look so obvious – they tend to broaden the face too much, throwing all the features out of balance with each other. I’m not sure that she had realistic expectations of surgery’
who wants it, who’s had it?
Mayer doesn’t approve of all surgery, though. This is the man rumored to have turned down Michael Jackson when he came knocking for his umpteenth nose job. Why would he refuse to operate? People’s faces are my advertisements,’ he shrugs. ‘I have to be careful how I advertise, and so I turn people down. Of course someone like Michael Jackson will always get someone to operate on him.’ About his own clients, Mayer is very discreet. He has to be. In Hollywood ‘you can admit that you’ve had a drug problem or say “I’m an alcoholic”, but you don’t admit you’ve had plastic surgery. Every time I watch TV, I see someone swearing they haven’t had surgery – and the last time I saw them, they were on my operating table ,’ he says, with a gentle Californian drawl guaranteed to calm the nerves of the most fractious celeb.
Still, whether they want to come clean or not, Mayer is adamant: ‘Everyone in Hollywood has had plastic surgery. They make their living out of what they look like and they want to look good.’ And those stars who reappear after an absence from the limelight looking radiant and refreshed and who always cite a new diet/vitamins/exercise routine?
‘You just need to be a movie buff. If you see a woman and she starts to look more and more aged and then you see her next movie and she looks terrific, she’s had cosmetic surgery. Celebrities don’t have different genes from the rest of us. If someone looks great for their age, think, “Do I know a 60year-old who looks like that?” If not, thats surgery for you.’ And watch for vanishing hairlines. I showed Dr Mayer a recent photograph of an amazingly youthful Hollywood star, whose looks seem barely to have changed since she was a Fifties’ siren. She claims her looks are due to diet and clean living. We compare the picture to an early shot. ‘See,’ he says. ‘The hair in front of her ears has receded by more than an inch! That doesn’t happen because you get older, that’s a major face-lift you’re seeing.’
The most popular procedures are nose jobs and lifts to the face, eyelid and forehead. In his 25 years as a surgeon, Mayer has done more than 1,000 face-lifts alone, and has had face, forehead and eye-lifts himself, courtesy of the other half of his business, Dr Fleming. ‘Here, look closely. You can’t see any scars,’ he says triumphantly, raising his smooth,glossy face to the light. I stare hard. Nope. Not a sign of a scar. ‘That’s because they’re inside the ear,’ he confides. Any other scars are buried in the hair and there ‘s a tiny one right under the chin. This near scar-free face-lift is Dr Mayer’s speciality, and is greatly in demand by the many celebs who like to pretend they’ve never seen a surgeon’s knife.
recycling fat from hips to lips…
Dr Mayer, of course, sees no shame in having a bit of work done. ‘I see cosmetic surgery as cleaning house,’ he explains. ‘If you’re going to put on an Armani suit and shirt and there’s a wattle of skin under your neck, to me thats unattractive. If I had love handles, I’d want them sucked out. Why walk around like that?’ he declares incredulously.
Mayer is genuinely shocked by the suggestion one might have better things to do with one’s time and money than spend them on plastic surgery. But is almost a spiritual experience. there is a human thread that binds all of us,’ he says, lapsing into Zen-speak. ‘We all want to get up in the morning and feel great about ourselves. If you can have that great feeling and look like Gandhi, well, terrific.’
The Gandhi look not being de rigueur in Beverly Hills, Mayer begins work at 6.15 am 5 days a week. And no, he doesn’t feel queasy slicing flesh that early in the morning. He loves operating and is particularly proud of his ecological record. Any fat that is cut off or sucked out is recycled. ‘We use it again if they need to have some other work done, like having their lips made bigger,’ he explains.
Pandering to the whims of celebrities is a lucrative business. Face-lifts are $8,500, a forehead-lift is $4,000, it’s $6,000 to have your nose fixed and liposuction costs $4,500-per thigh. Grateful clients are also apt to press gifts upon Mayer: ‘I’ve had paintings and sculpture,’ he admits. That stars start surgery young (‘I don’t think there’s anyone over 30 in Hollywood who hasn’t had something done’) and return often, is a bonus. ‘I’ll do a lift on celebrities at a much younger age than I would do a housewife,’ Mayer explains. The ‘normal’ age for a full face-lift is 45 plus. How much younger than that, exactly? Are we talking twenties, teens, or, God forbid, even face-lifted Hollywood kids? ‘The normal age is 35 to 40,’ he says firmly. ‘I’ve rarely done a face-lift on a woman under 35, although I’ve seen some women who are 30 to 35 who looked terrible. Other surgeons do face-lifts on women under 30, which is ridiculous. But I do eye-lifts at 25 to 35. Basically, I say start surgery when you start aging, then you can do it bit by bit, and enjoy the process. I saw a woman of 48 recently. She looked good, but I said, “Over the next few years you will see your friends get worse and worse – and even in 10 years you will look better than you do now.”‘
So how much less terrible can Mayer make a woman look? ‘I can kick someone up one notch,’ he says. ‘If A is the best and an E is the worst, sometimes I can take them up from a D to a B, but that’s the exception.’ One of his early clients was an Armenian woman. ‘Her nose looked like a baked potato and I said to her, “You know, I’m never going to make you an attractive nose.” The result? A better baked potato.’
the cutting edge
Recovery time is vital to women with films to make, corporations to run . . . Of his trademark brow-lift Dr Mayer says, ‘You can have it done on Thursday and go to work on Monday. For a face-lift, recovery is about two weeks.’
While it’s women who tend to be the beneficiaries of Mayer’s skills, it’s men who pick up the tab – boyfriends, husbands, ex – husbands … ‘If a woman is in the middle of a divorce I tell her to come back and see me when she’s psychologically adjusted,’ Mayer explains. And when the alimony is through, presumably. As for these Beverly Hills trophy wives who think a face-lift will nip their husband’s roving eye in the bud, Mayer is cautious: ‘If a woman thinks she’s going to get her husband back or thinks it is going to empower her to do something, I won’t do that.’
But according to Mayer, his consulting rooms aren’t crammed entirely with babes whose babedom is slipping. As he says, ‘The woman is athletic. She’s had a face-lift. She’s 42. She looks terrific. Now her husband’s bald, has a potbelly, never gets up off the couch. The woman is being hustled by the young and virile tennis coach.’ In an effort to repel marauding hoards of tennis court Casanovas, increasing numbers of insecure Hollywood men are visiting Mayer for a spot of liposuction and a re-thatch. Mayer’s unique version of the latter involves cutting out a vertical slice of scalp, then drawing the sides together to cover the gap. ‘We’ve done a couple of actors who didn’t have hair and now they do, but they get away with it,’ he says, incredulously. ‘You have to be careful who does this,’ he adds, obviously fed up with cowboy surgeons. ‘If it’s not stitched together properly, you can end up with a scar that looks like someone’s taken an axe to your head.’
Mayer’s verdict: ‘She looks great now, but she used to look more haggard. She’s had excellent work’
Mayer’s verdict: ‘His eyes are incredibly overdone, and yet he still looks older because his brows have fallen. I’d have done a forehead-lift.’
Mayer’s verdict: ‘I think she looks very good, much better than a couple of years back. If she’s had work, I guess it was an eye- and face-lift.’
Mayer’s verdict: ‘He doesn’t look like Paul Hogan any more. A forehead lift and more skin around the eyes would have looked more natural’
taking up the slack
Mayer’s verdict: ‘She’s getting to an age when she’ll need something done. Se’s starting to get a little hooded around the eyes. You watch, she’ll start to age dramatically over the next five years’
Mayer’s verdict: ‘I think she’s had some work because she’s looking younger. She needs her eyelids done now, so the effect will be subtle, rather than a shock. She’ll need a face-lift in five to 10 years’
Despite the polo ponies and paintings, there is a downside to being plastic surgeon by appointment to Beverly Hills’ A-list. ‘Sometimes the people I deal with are taxing,’ sighs Mayer. ‘Celebrities are used to getting their own way. I tell them the truth and they go see someone who’ll tell them what they want to hear and they end up looking bad. Then they want me to fix it.’ Face-lift junkies are the worst. ‘The idea is to take up the slack, not stretch the skin. If you stretch it. they get that awful plastic-surgery, pulled-back look. Who wants that? They come in looking like that and want to know if I can pull them tighter.’
According to Mayer, celebrities are deeply insecure and fall into two categories. The first is the terminally undecided. They can’t even identify what it is that bothers them. I kick those out – it means they’re unhappy with themselves.’ The second variety is the hypercritical. ‘They point out defects in their nose so minuscule, no surgeon could make them happy.’ He doesn’t turn these people away, but inevitably they’re dissatisfied.
Mayer draws the line at being on 24-hour call for those kind of whinges but always takes post-operative SOS messages persornally. ‘The things that have given me a problem are not what I’ve done, but what patients have done to themselves,’ he says. ‘One guy who had a face-lift had a pet tiger at home and the tiger cut his face where I had done the face-lift.’ Other routine Hollywood hazards are tennis racquets and balls, ski accidents and ‘luggage falling on them’. Well, Louis Vuitton suitcases do have those inconvenient brass corners, don’t they.
Although Mayer’s fame means he is routinely hassled at parties and even in the street, he still gets an enormous amount of satisfaction from happy clients. ‘One woman’s husband didn’t want her to have surgery and offered to buy her a diamond necklace instead. She says, “What am I going to do, put on a diamond necklace to draw attention to my neck?” After I did her face lift, I asked her “Was it worth it?” She said, “Oh I got the necklace, too”.’ Only in Hollywood…
Mayer’s verdict: ‘What can I say? His nose bears absolutely no relation to a normal nose – male or female’
Mayer’s verdict: This face-lift isn’t good – too much fat and skin has been taken from his eyelids”
Mayer’s verdict: ‘He has had a terrible face-lift – far too tight and pulled. It looks awful’
Mayer’s verdict: ‘He was very jowly and aged before, now he isn’t. I’m sure he’s had a full face-lift’
Dr Toby Mayer can be contacted at The Beverly Hills Institute of Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, 416 N. Bedford Drive, Suite 200, Beverly Hills, California 90210. Tel: 001 310 278 8823.