Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones and Dick Smith on Governors Awards (Exclusive Audio)
Smith, 89, is easily the world's most famous and influential living movie makeup artist. (He was referenced just this summer in Super 8.) After getting his start working for live TV, he transitioned to films and performed some of the most famous makeup jobs ever committed to celluloid -- many involving prosthetic and aging techniques, which he advanced greatly. He turned Dustin Hoffman, 33, into a 121-year-old Cheyenne in Little Big Man (1970); Marlon Brando, 48, into a jowly 63-year-old in The Godfather (1972); Max von Sydow, 44, into a frail 79-year-old in The Exorcist (1973, for which he also made up Linda Blair's demonic spinning head); and F. Murray Abraham, 45, into a 73-year-old in Amadeus (1984, for which both Abraham and Smith won Oscars). Unlike his predecessors, he shared his tricks of the trade with colleagues -- and the general public. His 1965 book Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Makeup Handbook became a best-seller and his correspondence course has produced more Oscar-winning makeup artists than all other makeup schools combined.
On how he first developed an interest in makeup...
"I was a kid, practically... I had always been fascinated by movies with monsters, and strange creatures, and so forth -- they had always been, to me, something fantastic... I read what books on makeup I could get. And, actually, the books on makeup were rubbish -- there was nothing very advanced in them... these books were carefully written so as not to divulge what was considered more 'professional' techniques... I was also a shy person... This was something that helped free me of that problem, that shyness. I mean, the wonderful thing about when you put on makeup like that, no one can recognize you; you yourself look in the mirror and you don't know yourself; and it gives you a freedom from your inhibitions."
On testing his work on unsuspecting audiences...
"I would go out in the dark of night, you know, late in the night, and go to friends' houses, and ring the bell, and watch them recoil in horror when they answered the door." [laughs]
On sharing his techniques with others...
"Makeup artists, generally speaking -- both the ones in the east and the west -- were kind of secretive about what they considered 'their' techniques that they had developed or invented or whatever... well, that's, frankly, a hell of a way to run any kind of an art... I didn't believe in that. I believed in answering questions, if I could... I had a policy of not keeping secrets, and it became well-known. It didn't hurt me or anything -- that's the funny thing."
On writing the immensely influential Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Makeup Handbook...
"I never thought it would catch on that much, but it has... I thought it would be an interesting thing that young people -- particularly kids -- would enjoy... It carefully describes... where you buy makeup materials... and how they can be used... with stills and illustrations of the steps of putting on various things... a ghoul, a split-face, a werewolf, a weirdo, a martian, a mummy... artificial eyes, and false-teeth, and bald headcaps, and all of that... I think that helped start a movement towards more people getting interested in and learning about makeup."
On the many makeup techniques that he invented or advanced...
"There's no one thing that I'm proudest of... I suggested, in a number of cases, that they use what I call 'overlapping appliances,' usually made of some rubbery material... one appliance, say, a false eye or a nose, would be overlapped by other appliances... 'Little Big Man' was one of the characters that got that benefit, so to speak."
On his favorite film experience...
"The film that I enjoyed working on the most was probably Little Big Man with Dustin Hoffman... it came out to be a fine film... [Also], Amadeus was a very fine, serious film... Of course, The Exorcist was another biggie... that tried my mettle."
On the thrill of his work...
"It's wonderful when you achieve something that you didn't think was achievable, when you find that you have the ability to do even more than you dreamed of... That is something that you can't get enough of... It was so exciting... I've had a wonderful time with it. It's been fun."
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