Hollywood Flashback: First Makeup Oscar Went to William Tuttle for '7 Faces of Dr. Lao' in 1965

MGM/Photofest
Tony Randall in William Tuttle’s makeup as Medusa in '7 Faces of Dr. Lao.'

The 'Wizard of Oz' alum transformed Tony Randall into five incarnations of the title character — a magical and mysterious circus proprietor — before later working on films like 'Young Frankenstein' and Elvis Presley's 'Jailhouse Rock.'

William J. Tuttle had a career in makeup that stretched from 1939's The Wizard of Oz to 1981's Zorro: The Gay Blade, included marriage in 1943 to the young starlet Donna Reed and, in 1965, peaked with Rosalind Russell handing him the first honorary Academy Award presented for makeup. (The Oscar category for "best makeup and hairstyling" wasn't put in place until 1981 when Rick Baker won for An American Werewolf in London.)

"He ran a very tight department at MGM," says Kathryn Blondell, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences governor for the makeup artists and hairstylists branch, who once worked with Tuttle. "They were always coming up with something special."

What finally brought Tuttle the Oscar recognition he'd long deserved was his work in transforming Tony Randall in 1964's 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. As the title implies, there was a ton of work done turning Randall into various incarnations of the title character — a magical and mysterious circus proprietor who sets up shop in a dusty Arizona town. (Besides Lao, Tuttle made Randall into Pan, Medusa, Merlin and the Abominable Snowman.)

The Hollywood Reporter said the actor's performance was "a dazzling display of virtuosity, in some stunning makeup created by Bill Tuttle."

Randall later said the makeup artist "shaved my head and eyebrows. Socially, it was a disaster. The effect gave me an unborn look. But professionally it was a masterstroke." (The film itself was a bit of a box office dud — it grossed only $1.25 million domestically, or $10 million in today's dollars.)

Randall was just one of the many actors Tuttle transfigured. He helped make Marlon Brando into the Roman leader in 1953's Julius Caesar and Fletcher Christian in 1962's Mutiny on the Bounty. For director Mel Brooks, he gave the monster in Young Frankenstein (Peter Boyle) its distinctive look. And with Elvis Presley in 1957's Jailhouse Rock, he subtly enhanced the singer's natural Elvis-ness. Tuttle died in 2007 at 95.

This story first appeared in a February stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.