“Dick Smith is god”— Rick Baker, six-time Academy Award winner for makeup
In the 100-year history of cinema, there have been few groundbreaking craftspeople who managed to both create unforgettable works and influence an entire industry in the process. In the world of movie makeup, there have been even fewer people who have gone beyond those qualifications, devoting their precious time to sharing the knowledge and expertise they have accumulated to the legions of young artists who have followed them in the business. Without question, foremost among these very special individuals is Dick Smith, the true master of makeup, who has been associated with the profession for the past 55 years.
Starting in Television
At first, Smith wasn’t at all certain that makeup would become his lifelong passion. “I had played around with makeup as a hobby when I was at Yale University, where intended to become a dentist,” he said. ” I used to make myself up there as monsters from the old Universal films and go around and scare my classmates.” Smith eventually decided that dentistry seemed pretty dull compared to makeup, so he got a job in 1945 at NBC in the fledgling television medium. ” I was the first staff makeup artist in the television industry, so I saw it from the very beginning,” Smith said. ” I worked there for 14 years, and it was really my school. I knew very little-I had only read a couple of stage makeup books and had done some makeup at Yale. I had a tiny little makeup room, a former dressing room, and I was by myself.” In five years time, television grew so fast that smith amassed a staff of 20 makeup artists working full time. Soon, Smith was supervising shows in studios and theaters all over New York City. ” I did every kind of makeup during my TV years, ” he noted, ” and about 1954-55, I taught myself how to run foam latex and started doing better work.” Among Dick’s TV highlights were fascinating makeups for a show called Way Out, in which he created a memorable “man who lost his face” for actor Barry Morse, and a leprous Quasimodo for actor Alfred Ryder, each in 1961. For all of his NBC shows, Smith received little official accolades though he made an impact on those young audience members who viewed his work. “I received one Emmy for my work on Hal Holbrook on Mark Twain Tonight in 1967, ” Smith said. ” Emmys were not given to makeup artist until I left NBC.” Following his tenure there, Smith worked on many films and other TV projects in the 1960’s, including Dark Shadows in 1967. For that TV program, Smith created an old-age vampire, Barnabus Collins, for actor Jonathan Frid. Though the makeup was applied just once, it led to a movie version in 1970 where Smith re-created a bald version of the aged vampire-this work set the stage for several ensuing classic smith age makeups.
By the late 1960’s, Smith was already a legend to young readers of his Monster Makeup Handbook, published through Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine in 1965. Among it’s enthusiastic readers were future makeup artist Craig Reardon (E. T., Poltergeist, Twilight Zone), Kevin Haney (Dick Tracy, Addams Family, Driving Miss Daisy) and Rick Baker, who had begun an active correspondence with Smith. However, it was a revisionist western shot in 1969 that brought Dick Smith to the forefront in the Hollywood makeup community.
Little Big Man
Smith came into Little Big Man through an association with Dustin Hoffman from Midnight Cowboy , and the film gave him the chance to create a memorable old-age makeup for Hoffman’s character, the lone white survivor of the battle of Little Big Horn in the late 1800s. Looking back on that time from the present day setting of the film, the character was supposed to be 121 years old. The key to creating the makeup was Smith’s innovation of developing individual appliances for different sections of Hoffman’s face so that the makeup would appear and move more naturally. “On previous projects, I often made individual makeup appliance like noses, chins, jowls, necks, and foreheads,” explained Smith. ” Sometimes they would nearly cover the whole face, but the idea of simply making these pieces larger covering all of the exposed areas of the face and overlapping them together was perfectly sensible and logical rather than making a huge mask for the entire face. The problem was that foam latex masks shrink during the curing process, so the stretching that is needed to fit them makes them feel tight to the actor’s face. Smith extensive use of this technique on Little Big Man has now become commonplace in the creation of facial makeups. To further heighten the realism of the character, Smith referenced photographs of actual old people and studied those when creating his sculpture for Hoffman’s face.
After the success of his work in Little Big Man, Smith was summoned to create a believable old age makeup for Marlon Brando in the epic film The Godfather. To create his Don Corleone character, Brando and Smith decided to use old-age stipple for his facial makeup, and Smith developed a dental plumper that would clip to Brando’s lower teeth and bulge out his jowls. In addition to Brando’s character makeup, Smith was called upon to create many realistic “special makeup effects” for The Godfather to represent the bloody results of bullet hits that would appear directly on screen. These effects were essentially the first of their kind for film. “Francis was very determined that the whole film looked very realistic,” Smith related. With blood essentially made from Karo syrup and food color, Smith actuated the bullet hits that occur in the shooting of Sterling Hayden’s police captain character. First, Smith created a foam latex rubber forehead that would be placed and match over the actor’s own forehead. “Before putting that on,” Smith conveyed, “we applied a thin disc of metal about the size of a silver dollar in the target area on his forehead. Then, we glued a proper-sized squib-a weak explosive charge-on top of the center of the metal, ran the little wires through the actor’s hair, connected them up to the detonator that the special effects guy would work, and then put that rubber forehead on. I had to pre-cut the bullethole so that the tiny piece of foam would blow out cleanly by the squib. Before the explosive was fired, a hypodermic needle injected my blood formula under the forehead appliance in a space around the squib where it was not glued down. Then the squib blew the bullet hole in the forehead on cue, sending the blood pouring out of it.” Several other makeup effects created by Smith added to the film’s startlingly gruesome realism.
If The Godfather was the first true use of special makeup effects and the first film to display Dick Smith’s shocking flair for duplicating reality, The Exorcist took those innovations a step further. With its tale of the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl played by Linda Blair, the film went on to become a huge hit with both horror fans and general audiences worldwide and showed viewers the extent to which makeup could affect the power of a film. Since Blair was so young and director William Friedkin was unsure whether she could handle many of the scenes, Smith had a duplicate makeup that was prepared for her double, Eilleen Dietz. “Eilleen actually was only used in a couple of scenes,” Smith described, “because Linda learned so fast and did so well.” For the scene where the possessed girl spews vomit at the Jason Miller’s priest character, Smith made a device that fit in Dietz’ mouth, like a horse’s bit. Channels on either side of the cheeks led to tubes which linked to the special effects man’s pressure mechanism which sent through hot pea soup. “The device was covered by a partial mask so it looked like Linda’s demonic makeup,” said Smith, “but the wearer couldn’t close her mouth. It wasn’t comfortable to wear for hours, which is why it was done on Eilleen.”
In addition to Blair’s demonic makeup, one of the more memorable effects was the rotating dummy head. To build that dummy, Smith brought in a young aspiring makeup artist whose acquaintance he had made in the late 1960s. “The rotating dummy was one of the biggest single jobs,” Smith commented , “so Rick Baker was my assistant to help me build it. We made molds of Linda’s body from head to toe and we actually were able to life-cast her face with her eyes and mouth open. She had white contact lenses in her eyes to protect them and we got a smile from her lifecast which made the dummy look very life-like.”
Another of The Exorcist’s myriad effects marvels was achieved when Blair’s neck bulged out on camera. “To make an inflatable bladder, I cut up a condom, got a large section of thin flat latex and I literally cut it into a circle and glued it to the skin all the way around the perimeter,” Smith related. “Next, a thin foam latex appliance was glued over the bladder. Then, I inserted a tube under the bladder and sealed it. A difficulty was that when she twisted her neck, it could make big folds or wrinkles in this skin, so I found that as I applied the foam latex neck, I had to stretch it really tight to prevent it from wrinkling.”
Another of Smith’s certain triumphs on the film was an old age makeup created for Max Von Sydow. “It consisted of appliances on the sides of his face, on his chin, an his upper lip, but the rest was old-age stipple around his eyes and neck, and he had a little waddle over his Adam’s apple,” Smith revealed. “That was actually a copy of my own neck to which I had applied three layers of old age stipple and then made a mold. Then, I blended the waddle in with the old age stipple that I put on his neck.” The three-and-a-half hour application job was executed most of the time on set by Smith’s assistant, Bob Laden. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Smith’s craftsmanship was that many viewers failed to recognize the then 44-year-old Von Sydow in the delicate age makeup.
Films of the 1970s
Several projects in the 1970s provided Smith with an opportunity to solve new makeup problems. He aged Walter Matthau for The Sunshine boys, created many demonic effects for the horror film The Sentinel, and worked on three films with Robert DeNiro, including Godfather II , Taxi Driver, and The Deer Hunter. For Taxi Driver, among many bloody effects for the climax of the film, Smith created a nearly invisible bald cap for Robert DeNiro. “It is just in the care of gluing it down and blending off the edge that makes a bald cap look real,” Smith described. “The trick was I figured out a way to spray chopped up hair onto the head in a natural dispersed way to give the semblance of hair stubble on a shaven head. It worked very nicely and I was very pleased with it-most people think that Bobby DeNiro shaved his head!”
“Altered States was indeed both a nightmare and an achievement,” Smith stated of his next major project, begun in 1979 and released in 1980. Arthur Penn, who directed Little Big Man, was first hired to helm the film, but soon Ken Russell was brought in by the studio. The story involves a scientist , played by William Hurt, who does experiments which alter the molecular structure of his body. The project was so mammoth, Smith brought in many young people to assist him, many of whom went on to do great work of their own. “I had 10 assistants,” Smith recollected, “including Carl Fullerton, who was a brilliant young makeup artist and an apprentice at NBC-he was my right hand man. I also had another old friend from Hollywood, Craig Reardon, a very talented guy, and Kevin Haney-Altered States was his first job.”
To execute the myriad transformation scenes and resulting deformations, several body effects and full-scale rubber suits were necessary for Hurt and actress Blair Brown. Such suits had not been made since Creature From the Black Lagoon in 1954, and to fabricate them, Smith’s team built huge guns to inject the foam latex into the giant molds once sculptures were finalized. One problem with the operation of the suits is that they completely absorbed water, a special complication since one effect called for Hurt to emerge from a tank full of water. “At first, when Bill started climbing out of his tank, the weight of the saturated suit was so heavy it just split right off his shoulders,” Smith painfully remembered. “We now had to glue stretch fabric inside these foam rubber suits. We also had the problem of drying them, but we got the water out with spin dryers; then we put them on racks to dry them out.” Blair Brown had two suits: the first one made her look as if she had no skin, like an anatomy study in a textbook-the crew affectionately called it Bare Blair. The second suit, which looked like a burned cinder, was called Burnt Brown. Late in production, director Russell decided to add optical enhancements to both Hurt and Brown’s suits. “As a makeup artist, I was disappointed,” Smith confessed. “Hurt’s second suit is never used, and the third suit appears very briefly in a couple of images.” Ironically, in pre-production meetings, Smith urged original director Arthur Penn to use optical effects to properly convey the metaphysical nature of the transformations.
For another Smith creation, Russell selected a dancer, Miquel Godreau, to play the part of the little ape man, a regressed manifestation of Hurt’s character. “Every day we put pre-made hair mats on different sections of his body,” explained Smith. “We had appliances on his face and a wig, so it was a complete makeup literally from head to toe.” Other effects in the film called for various parts of Hurt’s body to transform on film. First of all, a mutation of Hurt’s arm appears, and Smith decided not to create a mechanical arm for the scene. ” I had an idea how I could make the effect with overlapping bladders,” confirmed Smith. With sequentially inflated bladders attached down the length of Hurt’s arm under a realistic full-arm appliance, a rippling effect occurs in the scene- another use of Smith’s pioneering bladder techniques; other scenes involved comparable effects with Hurt’s head and torso. Without question, Smith’s work in Altered States set new standards in the emerging age of special makeup effects in the early 1980s and influenced many of his colleagues and followers alike.
Among the many effects in The Hunger, including several crumbling mummies which Carl Fullerton developed under Smith’s supervision, was a striking series of makeups on David Bowie, who has fallen under a vampire’s spell and rapidly ages in sequence. “He was 35 or 40 when he first appears,” Smith said, “and 55 for the second stage. In the next phase he goes up to 60-70. By changing some elements, I would get two age stages out of one set of appliances or hair pieces.” For the beginning of the sequence, Smith used a subtle combination nasal-labial fold and jowl, plus old age stipple to wrinkle around the eyes. “Then I used a very subtle forehead, a little waddle piece on his neck, and hair pieces that began getting grayer and more receding,” Smith noted. “Age 75 is the one I liked best, where he is completely covered with a wrinkled forehead, very receded whitish hair, and full jowls. At age 90, he has rubber hands, a whole face, including a nose, and a basically bald head with a fringe of hair.” Bowie wore shoulder pads of various degrees in the age stages, and for the final stage-where he was supposedly 150-he had a big built up bald head and hump, in addition to an extremely wrinkled facial appearance. “I was lucky in that David Bowie has an excellent face,” commented Smith. “That is a blessing since you can’t always get that-another blessing was having a cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, who was not only great at his craft but was a constant help to me in my work.”
If The Hunger was a tremendous accomplishment regarding Dick Smith’s old-age makeups, Amadeus was his crowning moment. “Amadeus, I think, is perhaps the job I was happiest with on every count,” Smith reflected. “After all those years and the hassles of various films, production problems, actors, and the rest, here I have this job where the producer and director both gave me carte blanche, I had plenty of time to prepare, and the design was up to me. Because of this, I didn’t have to hire a whole crew; in fact I did it all by myself. I went back to my roots, so to speak.”
Working with actor F. Murray Abraham creating the aged composer Saglieri, Smith covered his entire face, except for his nose, in overlapping foam latex appliances. “There is an upper lip, lower lip and chin, forehead, wrap- around cheeks that cover the cheeks and the neck, and two eye bags with two eye lids,” Smith described. “There is a plastic bald plate which first goes on underneath that the forehead overlaps. I decided against the use of appliances on his hands, so there I used my special aging latex.” Smith also implemented special contact lenses which aged gave a faded aged color to Abraham’s own brown eyes.
Smith’s Saglieri makeup was a certain success on every level, and he was awarded the Oscar for best makeup of 1984. “I knew I was a leader in the field and that I didn’t need any validation on that score,” Smith said, “but nevertheless, there is a professional pride as well as a personal one which says ‘I should have at least one of those damn things.” For me, Amadeus was the ideal makeup job. It was a dream project in every aspect.”
In one of his last jobs working actively on the set of a film, Smith undertook the story of a star athlete who becomes a paunchy loser in middle-age in Everybody’s All- American. “The makeup itself was a tricky one, one of the hardest I have done,” Smith conveyed, “because middle-age is more difficult to get away with.” Smith made appliances that covered the sides of actor Dennis Quaid’s face, a certain amount of double chin, and aging stipple was added around the eyes to wrinkle them up. In addition to Quaid, Smith aged Jessica Lange and Carl Lumbly, key figures in the story, through several stages leading to middle-age.
Smith’s Makeup Course
Since he began working in the 1940s, Smith has regularly communicated his vast knowledge of makeup to devoted followers and protégés of his work. In the mid-1980s, though, he formally put his information together in detailed form. “After I finished Amadeus and felt that, after 40 years, I finally knew enough, I wanted to write a book,” Smith explained, “but what wound up happening was that I decided to make it into a advanced professional makeup course, which I could send out by mail to any place in the world. The material encompasses everything I have learned of a special nature-nothing to do with straight makeup or ordinary makeup, but all the special makeup effects and character work.” It took Smith almost two years to write the course, and it has since been distributed to people in approximately 25 countries around the world. The course has since grown: in text it runs about 680 pages and includes illustrations and a video tape. “That accomplishment is my life’s work, of which I am very proud,” Smith related.
A Legendary Career
“I am flabbergasted; I still don’t believe it,” Smith reflected of his impact on the craft of makeup. “When I started, I had no confidence, no knowledge, and hardly any hope that I had the talent to become a makeup artist, to say little of becoming a successful one. To actually achieve, in my lifetime, the term of ‘the legendary Dick Smith,’ is unbelievable. I am thrilled by having accomplished so much in my life. It is an eternal joy.”
Dick Smith is far from being completely retired, with his ongoing makeup course and continuing involvement as a consultant to the dozens of makeup artist and students who have been under his tutelage. But would he ever return to active duty as a makeup artist? “If I could get something comparable to Amadeus, yes , I would do it, ” he said, “but that will never occur again. Of course, you never know, but I’m not looking for that to happen.”
By the 1990s, in addition to early protégés like Baker, Reardon, Fullerton and Haney, Smith had amassed a huge group of devotees, with notable names that range from Greg Cannom to Ve Neill to Kevin Yagher. Undoubtedly, all of these craftspeople point to Smith as their key influence and the guiding spirit in their careers. Considering everyone included, one cannot possibly measure the overall impact that Dick Smith has made on a generation of artists and an entire industry, in the end result. “My position has made it possible for me to extend myself and help younger people,” Smith stated of his amazing life. “It is a way for me to win friends all over the world. They are my family; they are people I love, and I think that is what life is all about anyway. I think whatever you give of yourself-your interest and affections-it comes back to you. It is a reward that is worth a bushel of Oscars.”