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Howard J. Smit, a respected makeup artist who helped found IATSE Local 706 more than seven decades ago and led the campaign to recognize his craft with an Oscar each year, died Aug. 1 at Providence Tarzana Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 98.
Smith served a combined span of almost 50 years as the local’s business representative and a member of the executive board. He helped spearhead the crusade in the early 1950s that led to makeup artists and hairstylists acquiring pension, health and welfare benefits — all now part of the Basic Agreement contract. In the 1980s, Smit was instrumental in getting mandatory screen credit for makeup artists and hairstylists.
A native of Chicago, Smit left law school after three years to follow his passion of makeup artistry and became a founding member of IATSE Local 706 in 1937. Two years later, he worked on the classics “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gunga Din.”
Smit made up many of the biggest stars in the Golden Age of Hollywood: Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, Myrna Loy, Robert Mitchum, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. He worked with Alfred Hitchcock on “The Birds” (1963) and “Marnie” (1964) and in ’60s television on “The Mod Squad.”
Smit campaigned to convince the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to give makeup artists their own award. His perseverance was rewarded in 1982,cq when the Academy awarded the first Oscar for achievement in makeup (to Rick Baker for “An American Werewolf in London”).
Smit served for two terms as local president. His devotion to union causes and brotherhood led to the creation of the “Smitty” award in his honor.
In 1953, Smit organized the Deb Star Ball, a 15-year tradition that drew attention to starlets and up-and-coming actresses; those recognized included Kim Novak, Tuesday Weld, Jill St. John and Mary Ann Mobley. The proceeds of that event helped to establish Local 706’s welfare committee.
In 1986, a gunman shot Smit as he and others were leaving an executive board meeting. A makeup artist was suspected, and two Los Angeles police officers who were dispatched to the artist’s home were killed. Smit recovered and served for another eight years before retiring in 1994.
Smit also served as a governor of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and was a member of its board of directors. He was a director on the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Fund.
Services for Smit will be at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
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