Makeup maven Dick Smith is that rare type of artist: a consummate craftsman, a genius innovator and a generous mentor to the generations of makeup artists who follow him.
Smith’s work is on some of cinema’s most iconic moments. He’s the artist behind Marlon Brando’s jowly look in “The Godfather,” the one who turned a fresh-faced Linda Blair into a possessed girl in “The Exorcist,” and the sculptor who took F. Murray Abraham from mid-life into his 80s in “Amadeus.” The latter project earned him a makeup Oscar that he shares with Paul LeBlanc.
“He’s been called the ‘godfather of makeup’ for a reason,” says Leonard Engelman, governor of the makeup branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “There’s no one who has had as much influence over the materials and techniques we use today or the young makeup artists working in the industry.”
Smith was a pre-med student at Yale when he became fascinated by Hollywood makeup techniques. He went on to develop his own methods in shading and texture and popularized new types of appliances and materials. He’s the author of “Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook: How to Have Fun Creating Your Own Monster Make-up,” which Rick Baker cites as a huge influence on his own career in makeup. And Smith continues to make his latest techniques available through an online course at his website, dicksmithmake-up.com.
“I wrote to Dick years ago, when I was just starting out, and he actually took the time to call me once he got back from Thailand where he was working on ‘The Deer Hunter,’ ” says Kevin Haney, himself a makeup Oscar winner for “Driving Miss Daisy.” At the time Haney was working at a fast-food restaurant but he impressed Smith. Soon Haney was working with the already legendary artist, and now he’s been a makeup artist for more than 20 years. “But there are probably hundreds of stories like mine about people who’ve been helped into their careers by Dick Smith,” Haney says.
Haney remembers being in awe of Smith’s dedication as soon as they started working together.
“I watched him take things completely apart because they weren’t good enough or search for a new type of adhesive or change his way of doing something all the time,” says Haney. “He taught me to love doing makeup so much that you’re always looking for the best way of doing something even if it means you have to do something you’ve never done before in your career.”
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