Dick Smith, 'The Godfather of Makeup,' Dies at 92
UPDATED: The generous Oscar winner turned his actors unrecognizable in such films as "Little Big Man," "The Godfather," "Amadeus" and "The Exorcist."
Dick Smith, the Oscar-winning maestro of makeup who aged Dustin Hoffman for Little Big Man, plumped up Marlon Brando for The Godfather and served as a munificent mentor to dozens of aspiring artists, has died, his protege, seven-time Oscar winner Rick Baker, announced Thursday on Twitter. Smith was 92.
"The master is gone. My friend and mentor Dick Smith is no longer with us. The world will not be the same," Baker wrote.
Smith died in Los Angeles at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday, his sons David and Douglas said.
Smith shared the Academy Award for makeup in 1985 with Paul LeBlanc for their work on Amadeus, in which they took eventual Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham from his 40s into his 80s. Smith then received an honorary Oscar in November 2011.
Known as “The Godfather of Makeup,” Smith shared another Oscar nomination for transforming 65-year-old Jack Lemmon into an octogenarian in Dad (1989). Earlier, he made a bloody mess out of Anthony Quinn’s face in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), fashioned Robert De Niro’s mohawk for Taxi Driver (1976) and transformed David Bowie into a vampire in The Hunger (1983).
And the way he transfigured the angelic Linda Blair into a demon on the bitterly cold set of The Exorcist (1973) will never be forgotten — certainly not by the legions of frightened moviegoers who fled theaters after seeing his work on the screen.
Other films on which Smith made his mark included It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The World of Henry Orient (1964), Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Godfather: Part II (1974), The Sunshine Boys (1975), Marathon Man (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978), Altered States (1980), Scanners (1981) and Starman (1984).
Smith also won an Emmy Award for turning then 42-year-old Hal Holbrook into the 70-year-old creator of Huckleberry Finn for the 1967 CBS telefilm Mark Twain Tonight!
Smith got his professional start as the makeup director for then-fledgling network NBC in 1945, and he stayed there through 1959, developing new materials and pioneering the use of foam latex and plastics to fit the lightning-fast pace of live TV.
Smith’s groundbreaking method of gluing on multiple foam latex “appliances” in overlapping pieces — rather than using single-mold masks — permitted actors to employ their full range of facial expressions.
In 1965, Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook was first published. The book, which contained “instructions for transforming your face into 15 monsters using makeup and other materials,” influenced Baker and many other future makeup all-stars.
As an 18-year-old, Baker wrote a letter and sent photos of his amateur work to Smith. Just days later, he received a reply and a spongy facial appliance that Smith had used on the CBS sci-fi anthology series Way Out, hosted by Roald Dahl.
“He wrote that he couldn’t wait to meet me and that he hadn’t seen work this good by anyone, let alone by an 18-year-old kid. Please come soon,” Baker, now a seven-time Oscar winner, recalled in 2003 during an interview with the Archive of American Television.
Baker’s parents dropped him off at Smith’s home in Larchmont, N.Y., and he spent hours with his idol in his basement studio, learning such tricks as how to use a brush with alcohol to produce a realistic wrinkle.
Baker went on to serve as Smith’s lab assistant, working in that same basement, on The Exorcist; they teamed to create Blair’s revolving head. (Even after he became a most-wanted makeup and effects man in Hollywood, Smith still created his effects in his basement, then brought them to the set for the start of production.)
“He’s the greatest makeup artist of all time,” Baker said as he introduced Smith at the Governors Awards.
Others who learned the craft from Smith or swore by his methods included Stan Winston (Alien), Mike Westmore (Mask), Craig Reardon (The Goonies), Kevin Haney (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Alec Gillis (Starship Troopers), John Caglione Jr. (Dick Tracy), Kazuhiro Tsuji (Looper), Todd Masters (Slither) and Lee Romaire (Six Feet Under).
“I personally can say his lessons were the best education I ever received,” Masters said.
Born June 22, 1926, in Larchmont, N.Y., Smith attended Wooster School and then Yale University, where he aimed to become a dentist. He stumbled upon a manual about stage makeup in a bookstore and began working with the Yale theater group; at night, he roamed the campus in his monster makeup, looking to get a rise out of the students.
“Initially they shrieked and hollered, but they soon wanted me to scare everybody else too,” he said in a 2008 interview. “So we all raced down the dormitory corridors together in search of other victims.”
For a 1959 NBC production of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, Smith transformed the legendary Laurence Olivier into a leprosy victim. “When I finished the makeup, he looked in the mirror and said, ‘Dick, it does the acting for me.’ I’ve never forgotten his words,” Smith recalled.
In Little Big Man (1970), Smith spent six weeks sculpting the overlapping appliances for the head and hands of Hoffman, metamorphosing the actor from an Indian man in his early 30s to age 121.
For The Godfather (1972), Smith used a dental device called a “plumper” to make Brando’s jowls droop, and he created bleeding gunshot special effects by hiding a bladder under an actor’s foam latex forehead. Electricity was sent through wires to set off a tiny charge that ignited a small cap, which punctured the bladder and sent blood pouring through a pre-arranged hole in the middle of the forehead.
And for the scene where the possessed girl spews vomit at Jason Miller’s priest character in The Exorcist, Smith created a device that fit in the mouth of Blair’s double, Eileen Dietz. Hot pea soup was then forced through channels and tubes on either side of her cheeks.
Smith called The Exorcist his favorite film.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please forgive me, my memory is not very good these days,” Smith said during his acceptance speech at the 2011 Governors Awards. “When I watched the wonderful [highlight] film they just showed, I kept thinking, ‘Gosh, that fellow had a great career.’ ”
Carolyn Giardina contributed to this report.