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History of Hollywood Make up, Part I

You will almost certainly have been struck by the way Hollywood actresses are made up, and with good reason, because it certainly makes them glow.

It all began when make up artists first entered the scene many years ago. Initially, cosmetics were scarce, and actors would spend hours and hours before they were finally made up. If you’d like to know what the first make up brands were, and the top makeup artists of the day, or Greta Garbo’s make up tricks, among others, read this article carefully as we retrace the history of Hollywood make up.

The makeup artist’s craft began to be increasingly recognised in the 1930s. It’s important to note that makeup artists were not highly considered from the outset, because most of them were out-of-work actors who took make up as a second option. This becomes easier to understand if we bear in mind that actors (be they theatre, or early-movie actors) had to be able to make themselves up.

Nevertheless, by the end of the silent era, studios were beginning to hire people to be specifically responsible for make up, and this was the birth of the make up artist. And characterisation was all the more important in classic Hollywood where little was known about make up (makeup artists were hired for movies only from the ‘30s) and where products were scarce. But the early days of this new profession were no bed of roses, far from it –and neither was it so for those unfortunate actors who had to bear the agony of spending four hours sat in a barber’s seat -.

This is how ever more make up artists began to appear, in the steps of the Westmores and Max Factor. The pioneers were: Cecil Holland, Lon Chaney and George Westmore.

Cecil Holland, whose name until quite recently was utterly unknown, was not only known in his day as “The father of the make up profession”, but also was credited with being the first “Man of a Thousand faces”, and with having handed this title over to Chaney. Two of his most outstanding creations were the ones he produced for Bull Montana in THE LOST WORLD (1925) and for Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932).

The Westmore dynasty were pioneers and among the most important in Hollywood’s make up scene during the silent era, when George Westmore, a Jewish Cockney, set up the first make up department in the history of cinema, at the Selig Studios. Probably some eighty percent of all movies made in Hollywood in between 1930 and 1950, had Westmore’s name among the credits.
Jack Dawn, for example, managed MGM’s make up department for four years. His team had good facilities, adjustable barber seats, many mirrors and adequate illumination, and demanded that it’s employees be treated as artists, not technicians, despite their craft being an extremely tough one.

William Tuttle started out as a Fox apprentice, working under Dawn. Thus, he started out sweeping and scrubbing floors, as Dawn was a cleanliness freak. He typed, wrote reports, ran errands and answered the telephone. “I would prepare all his make up, all the colours, and that’s how I got familiar with what make up the actors wore. There was no established system for young people to learn the trade. You’d enter it bit by bit. No apprenticeship period was agreed on; you just began when they thought you were competent”, Tuttle remembers. One day Dawn looked at the sketches that Tuttle had made for Fox, and that was when he thought he would make a good makeup artist. He began by letting him help out on tests. One day, the person in charge of make up on THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) didn’t show up, and they sent Tuttle on as a substitute until they could hire someone else. He himself ended up taking charge of work n that picture. When Jack Dawn moved to Metro in 1934, he took Tuttle with him.

Jack Pierce and Maurice Seiderman were two famous makeup artists who worked during the ‘30s, and thanks to whom the movie market was revolutionised. Both sttudied human anatomy in an effort to make their characterisations more realistic. Pierce was behind Boris Karloff’s transformation in Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi’s in Drácula. Pierce continued to work on characterisation in all the films made around the Frankenstein story that followed the first version, such as: THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942); FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943); HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1945), etc. But he also had the chance to show his creativity by creating other monsters that have appeared in the history of the terror-movie genre. From the title character in THE MUMMY (1932), to the one in WEREWOLF OF LONDON, etc. Seiderman, for his part, was able to perfect the human ageing process to such an extent that he created 37 different “faces” for Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. The actress Jane Wyatt was frankly overwhelmed upon entering Universal’s make up dept. for the first time.

Now let’s go over actresses’ make up, decade by decade; what was being worn, and the new products... (in Part II)


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