×

Veteran Makeup Artist Dan Striepeke Has Special Bond With Tom Hanks

In the history of maquillage, few names echo more loudly than that of Dan Striepeke, who has earned a pair of Oscar nominations for his work with Tom Hanks on “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

A mixture of psychologist and painter, sculptor and actor’s best friend, Striepeke (pronounced STREE-peck), was born in 1930 and began his face-fixing career with a “walk-in” at L.A.’s Civic Playhouse. Perfectly re-creating Louis Wolheim’s character from “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 19-year-old was hired instantly.

Transitioning to early television on “McMahon’s Minstrels,” “The Jack Rourke Show” and local news, Striepeke soon
got work on major films such as 1956’s “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Giant,” attending bit-players after gaining his union card. On that same year’s “The Ten Commandments,” he applied sodden makeup on 400 extras playing slaves in the brick pit scenes, and placed real-hair beards on everyone after Cecil B. DeMille spotted cheap, hook-on chin warmers in the dailies and shut down production. Striepeke incorporated six different whisker designs to please the demanding director.

His craft chops grew amid the showbiz growth spurt of the ’50s. Striepeke worked on “Maverick,” “Playhouse 90,” “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show” and “The Pinky Lee Show.” He obtained journeyman status on “The Red Skelton Show,” “The Jack Benny Program” and “Can-Can.” By 1959, the 30-year-old was anointed head of Universal’s prosthetic makeup department by makeup legend Bud Westmore.

For 1960’s “Spartacus,” his first project, Striepeke created Laurence Olivier’s requisite Roman nose. On location for “The Magnificent Seven,” it was dark makeup and mustaches and beards for bandits.

Teaming up with John Chambers in 1966 for the CBS TV show “Mission: Impossible,” the pair devised the franchise’s signature face peel. Carrying the mask concept to extremes two years later, they applied their latex science to another effects benchmark, “Planet of the Apes,” where they figured out ways to allow the actors beneath the heavy makeup to articulate the simians’ faces.

Striepeke discovered Hollywood’s trend-setting power when he came up with the idea for Robert Redford’s Fu Manchu mustache in 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” He tried various looks, but it was the actor’s own facial fur that made the grade. Within six weeks of the film’s opening, the Sunset Strip was full of men sporting the look.

The following year, for “Patton,” he had to be more hands-on in transforming George C. Scott’s gnarled sniffer into the general’s aquiline nose; he crafted a support system that pulled the snout straight.

For the infamous Russian roulette scenes in 1978’s “The Deer Hunter,” Striepeke created the look of the point-blank head wounds by fabricating malleable shields that held explosive squibs and affixing them to the actors’ scalps. Upon detonation, “blood” splattered and mock bone shattered. Audiences gasped at the  realism of the effect.

By 1989, the makeup maven went freelance, continuing a relationship with Tom Hanks that proved to be his most enduring in the craft. They had first bonded on 1987’s “Dragnet” and went on to collaborate on “The ’Burbs,” “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Forrest Gump” (where Striepeke earned his first acting role, playing an assistant college football coach).

“Saving Private Ryan,” “The Green Mile,” “Cast Away” and the performance-capture-based animated film “The Polar Express” followed, and took their work together to the next level, each film incorporating proprietary makeup looks for the A-list actor.

Striepeke proudest moment came not when he was nominated for Oscars but when he received an ovation from the crew upon revealing the look of Tom Hanks’ Santa Claus on “Polar Express.” He tearfully considers that peer appreciation beyond words. “At that moment,” he says, “I knew I had created a work of art.”

Striepeke retired after working with Hanks on 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code.” He lives in West Los Angeles, writes, sculpts and continues to mentor others in the industry.

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • How 'Inception' VFX Supervisor May Leung

    Why 'Inception' Visual Effects Supervisor May Leung Is a Rare Gem

    For some unfortunate reasons, May Leung is an anomaly in the world of visual effects supervision. While there are plenty of women in the world of VFX at large, Leung is part of the only 5% of them who make it to the top role of supervisor. Her work has been featured in 38 films, including [...]

  • The Pennybox LTC Sandra Pennington

    How DIY Gear Is Helping Camera Crews Get the Job Done and Changing the Industry

    Cinematographers and their camera crews often tweak equipment to fit their needs. Sometimes it results in Garrett Brown inventing, designing and building the Oscar-winning Steadicam, or Nic Sadler developing the Artemis Director’s Viewfinder, which earned him an Engineering Emmy. But DPs and camera assistants regularly create tools and accessories to help them and their colleagues become [...]

  • Charm City Kings Movie

    How 'Charm City Kings' Cinematographer Throttled Up the Realism

    Puerto Rican director Ángel Manuel Soto stuck with his decision to bring on cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi for Sony’s “Charm City Kings” despite the studio’s desire for someone with more experience. Though Arizmendi’s credits included just a pair of indie features, Soto knew that her use of naturalistic light with touches of heightened realism were ideal [...]

  • Crip Camp

    How 'Crip Camp' Allowed Co-Director Jim LeBrecht Tell His Story of Representation

    The new Netflix documentary “Crip Camp” centers on Camp Jened, a summer camp for those with disabilities. As told in the doc, it would go on to spark something of a revolution in the disability rights movement. Filmmakers Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht (who had worked with Newnham as a sound designer on her projects) [...]

  • Self Made Netflix

    How Netflix's 'Self Made' Tells First Female Millionaire's Tale With Eclectic Soundtrack

    Netflix’s “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker,” the story of America’s first self-made female millionaire, takes place between 1908 and 1918. But the music, instead of focusing on the early jazz that might be expected, runs the gamut from ragtime to hip-hop. “Madam C.J. Walker is a central, seminal historical figure [...]

  • Mark Lanza

    Motion Picture of Sound Editors President on the Impact of Coronavirus on the Industry

    Mark Lanza, president of the Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE), has been working from home. This is the new norm for him (and thousands of others) as a supervising sound editor. Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down production, Lanza, whose credits include “Manhunt” and “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” was used to mixing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content