Shu Uemura, former Hollywood makeup artist and founder of the cosmetics brand that bears his name, died Dec. 29 of acute pneumonia. He was 79.
Uemura became interested in makeup and hair styling while he was bedridden during an illness as a teenager and become the only male student in a class of 130 at the Tokyo Beauty Academy. He made his first contact with Hollywood working as a makeup assistant on the Japanese shoot of the 1957 Universal comedy “Joe Butterfly.” This led to work with Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson. Uemura made his reputation, however, by transforming Shirley MacLaine into a Japanese geisha for the Par pic “My Geisha,” released in 1962. His makeover was so convincing that he won applause from the film’s staff, as well as MacLaine herself. This led to more Hollywood work, including the Frank Sinatra-helmed pic “None But the Brave” in 1965.
While at Columbia Pictures working with Ben Lane, Uemura became acquainted with Unmask cleansing oil and began importing it under license to Japan. He later developed his own brand of oil — the foundation of his cosmetic empire. In 1964, he returned to Tokyo and opened the Shu Uemura makeup school that taught techniques Uemura had learned in his Hollywood days. In 1968 he started his Mode Line of cosmetics, with new products presented in two annual shows, much like a fashion line. From this base Uemura built a cosmetics, hair products and lifestyle empire that he sold to the L’Oreal group in 2003.