Monday, August 11, 2014

In Memory of Dick Smith

(June 26, 1922 - July 30, 2014)
"There’s never going to be another Dick Smith. 
Dick is, without a doubt, the greatest makeup artist who’s ever going to live."   
- Rick Baker

Dick Smith, a visionary pioneer of prosthetic theatrical make-up effects often called the "godfather of make-up" passed away just a few weeks ago.

Smith, born in New York, attended Yale University studying to become a dentist.  Smith stumbled upon a book on theatrical make-up that piqued his interest so much that he began practicing in his spare time, emulating classic movie monster make-ups and volunteering his services to theatrical actors in local productions.  Shortly after his graduation, he enlisted in the military and served during World War II.

Dick Smith working on The Exorcist
After the war, Smith was having a hard time decided what he wanted to do with his life.  He was uncertain in his desire to become a dentist, but still had yearning to do make-up which, before the war, had been little more than a hobby.  He ultimately decided to pursue his passion and become a make-up artist.  Unfortunately, his wok was rejected by the film industry.  Smith's father presented him with the idea of working in television, which was still in its infancy at the time.  In those days, there was no such thing as a full-time make-up artist, but Smith did such great work that he was given continual work in television through NBC.

A dummy head created for a 1961 production of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Facing budget constraints and frustrated with the limitations of conventional techniques, Smith developed his own methods in his basement.  His pioneering techniques included innovations in foam latex prosthetic face masks.  These were normally made in just one piece and limited the amount of facial expression of the actors beneath the make-up. Smith's method involved the creation of three cohesively layered pieces that allowed for greater expression and realism.  To achieve additional realism, Smith relied on a collection of photographic references that he would use as inspiration throughout his career.  Smith continued working in television for around two decades, doing make-up work for genre shows such as Way Out (a Twilight Zone-esque anthology show), Dark Shadows, and a TV movie adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

A sampling of Smith's make-up work for Way Out, Dark Shadows, and North and South
It was in the 70's that Smith finally achieved his dream of creating make-ups for the movies such as Midnight Cowboy and House of Dark Shadows.  One of his early achievements was producing an old age make-up for Dustin Hoffman for the film Little Big Man.  Modern make-up artists still struggle to make convincing old age make-ups, but, ever the pioneer, Smith proved that he was up to the challenge.

Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man

Another milestone in Smith's career was his work on The Godfather.  Once again, Smith pioneered new techniques.  He applied a simplified old age make-up to Marlon Brando when the actor refused to wear the appliances normally used to achieve the effect.  Additionally, Smith created the first bleeding make-up effect utilizing bladders and squibs tucked underneath foam latex appliances to produce a shockingly convincing head-shot scene.

Before and after shots Marlon Brando with a minimalist old age make-up created and applied by Dick Smith

Probably Smith's most famous and memorable work was created for the landmark horror film, The Exorcist.  For this film, Smith further blended special effects and his realistic make-ups, pushing his abilities to their limits.  Smith had just three months to develop not only demonic make-ups, but also old age make-ups and a variety of prosthetics integrated with special effects.  Working with just one assistant - Rick Baker, who would go on to his own illustrious career in make-up effects - Smith created some of his best work. Most notable are the scenes in which welts appearing on Linda Blair's stomach, the extreme vomiting effect, and the infamous head-spinning dummy.

The dummy used to create the disturbing spinning head scene

Smith would go on to work on numerous films and even win an Academy Award for Best Make-up for his amazing old age make-up in Amadeus.  In 2011 he was the first make-up artist to be awarded with the Academy Honorary Award.

Life sized puppets created for Ghost Story

Smith influenced countless young make-up artists with his work in television and film, but perhaps his most enduring contribution to his craft was sharing his secrets.  While many make-up artists were reluctant to share their techniques, Smith put forth efforts throughout his career to educate aspiring artists through publications and training courses.

A 1965 special edition of Famous Monsters of Filmland featured instructional guides by Dick Smith
It is certain that Dick Smith's legacy will endure and continue to inspire monster makers for generations to come.  You can find more information about Smith's career and his training program at

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