John Lanzendorf knew beauty and also beasts.
A Chicago hairstylist for society ladies and movie stars, he amassed one of the finest private collections of dinosaur art in the world, with pieces so scientifically accurate they have been displayed in museums. He befriended paleontologists, visited their digs, and once said he could name 700 dinosaurs.
Some of his works were created by the artists and magicians who helped bring the dinosaurs to life in “Jurassic Park” and other films.
His passion for prehistory ended up filling every table and every wall of his 1,250 square foot condo in the 200 block of East Pearson Street.
A display case contained the origin of the species: small green plastic dinosaurs that he started collecting when he was a little boy.
“I have a dinosaur in a cereal box,” he once told the Chicago Sun-Times, “and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
“Lanzy” gathered friends and loyal customers the same way he collected “Paleo art”.
He worked as a hairstylist in Gold Coast salons, where his clients included Jane Fonda, Rita Hayworth, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler and Rudolf Nureyev.
And he did his hair for Victor Skrebneski’s photo shoots, according to his friend Richard Wilson, architect at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.
He styled stars appearing at the Chicago International Film Festival like Leslie Caron, Claudia Cardinale, Catherine Deneuve, Deborah Kerr and Marcello Mastroianni.
“I would send them to John, and they all loved him,” said film festival founder Michael Kutza, who owns a life-size fiberglass head of a T. rex that Mr. Lanzendorf gave him. as a gift.
Mr Lanzendorf, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, died May 27 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after complications from surgery, friends say. He was 76 years old.
Hundreds of his pieces are in the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which called them “the world’s largest collection of Paleo art” after it purchased them in 2002. Some are featured in a new “Dinosphere” exhibit that will s is open in March.
Chicagoans saw some of her acquisitions in 2000. When Sue’s Tyrannosaurus exhibit debuted at the Field Museum, her T. rex art was also on display.
“Its collection is unparalleled and certainly the largest in the country, if not the world,” John W. McCarter Jr., then-CEO of the Field Museum, said in Mr. Lanzendorf’s 2000 book about his collection, “Dinosaur Imagery: The Science of Lost Worlds and Jurassic Art.”
The publisher, Academic Press, said of Mr. Lanzendorf: “His collecting and obsessive interest in dinosaurs is second to none.”
He even had a Velociraptor tattoo on his upper arm, according to his friend Peter Makovicky, a paleontologist and University of Minnesota professor who previously worked at the Field Museum.
“John’s own words would be, ‘You know, I’m a little crazy,'” Makovicky said. “He would go all-in if he fell in love with a subject or a hobby.”
“John had an infectious personality, a welcoming manner, and a fashionable and artistic side that appealed to the many Chicagoans whose lives he touched,” said University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno. “Chicago lost a dear friend but benefited from his many connections and the art he loved so much, collected and then transferred to a permanent museum.”
Young John grew up in Spooner, Wisconsin.
“On his 18th birthday, he took a bus to Chicago, where he continued a 56-year career as a ‘who’s who’ hairstylist,” Wilson said.
After cosmetology school, he worked at Bonwit Teller, Jon L. Goodman Salon, Lanzendorf Blankenship Salon and most recently Elizabeth Adam at Water Tower Place.
“You had to be asked to give her a haircut,” her friend Janet Murphy said. “He only wanted the people he loved.”
“Everyone is talking about writing the John Lanzendorf joke book because they would hear these naughty jokes from rich women in Chicago,” said his friend Douglas Van Tress, co-owner of Golden Triangle Imports. “The nicest, most sophisticated people told him these outrageous jokes with a 1970s air about them.”
Van Tress said he became friends with him after Mr Lanzendorf bought a dinosaur egg from his art and design shop.
“He collected all kinds of things,” he said. “But I realize his real genius was bringing people together.”
“I’ve never known someone with more friends and such a joy to connect with each other,” Wilson said. “He had hundreds of friends of all ages and professions.”
He would throw birthday parties at Sayat Nova or Pelago Ristorante.
“He would start toasting everyone who was there and talk about how he met them all, and he would end up crying,” his friend Tom Murphy said. “He would be overwhelmed.”
Mr. Lanzendorf might introduce friends to the person who would sell them their dream home. Or he could do a different kind of match, pairing friends with the perfect pet.
Makovicky and his wife Sushma Reddy once stopped by the Anti-Cruelty Society with Mr. Lanzendorf, looking for a dog to adopt. “Lanzy” focused on a friendly and calm dog. The couple went out with him.
“Odin was our dog for the next 14 years, a yellow Lab-pit mix, the sweetest dog,” Makovicky said. “John saw that in him in a minute.”
He was a regular at meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, which administers a prize he helped create: the Lanzendorf-National Geographic PaleoArt Prize.
It is “the only prize in the discipline given to artists”, said Jessica Theodor, president of the society, “and has stimulated a lot of wonderful work”.
“He supported those of us artists who wanted to bring dinosaurs back to life at a time when Paleo art was not accepted as a legitimate art form by the art community,” said Mike Trcic, who helped create T. rex effects for “Jurassic Park.”
“John made a lot of us all feel like rock stars,” said David Krentz, who worked on Disney’s 2000 movie “Dinosaur” and storyboards for 14 Marvel projects. “He was one of a kind, quirky, loving, funny, generous and fully embraced himself and others.”
Friends said he funded scholarships for dozens of young students in China, whom he visited on a museum fossil expedition.
After the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis purchased his collection, Mr. Lanzendorf turned to collecting Asian art.
He also kept rare parrots, cockatoos and macaws and two Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen dogs. One was called Louis because the breed was French. Mr. Lanzendorf, a tennis fan, named the other Rafa for tennis star Rafael Nadal.
Van Tress said a celebration of Mr. Lanzendorf’s life will be held in July at the Golden Triangle.
“I always get asked what’s so good about dinosaurs since they didn’t survive,” Lanzendorf said in an interview with the Indianapolis Star. “Dinosaurs ruled the earth for 160 million years, and they’ve been gone for 65 million years. Man has been here for three to five million years, and in the last 100 years we have destroyed half the planet. We should be so happy to be as successful as the dinosaurs.