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One of the heroes of our genre has been honored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science. Dick Smith, who has rightfully been sired with the title of the Godfather of Makeup, was given an honorary Governor’s Academy Award for his unparalleled contributions to the field of makeup in the film industry.
As he was always a behind-the-scenes guy, let me catch you up on just what Dick Smith is responsible for creating. Does the name Regan MacNeil mean anything to you? That’s right, Smith transformed cute little Linda Blair into the beast that launched 1,000 nightmares in The Exorcist. For me, that alone is enough to grant the man the all-time title, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Smith shared an Oscar in 1984 for transforming F. Murray Abraham from his 40’s to his 80’s in Amadeus and was nominated again for morphing Jack Lemmon from a spry 65 deep into his 80’s in Dad.
In addition to The Exorcist, some of Smith’s other work in the horror genre includes The Stepford Wives, The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), The Sentinel (1977), Altered States (1980), Scanners (1981), Ghost Story (1981) and The Hunger (1983). He also worked in television on a show you may remember, “Dark Shadows.” And again, this is just a small sample of his work.
Outside of horror, Smith worked on legendary films such as The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Miracle on 34th Street (1959), The Deer Hunter (1978) and Taxi Driver (1976). He initially got his start working for NBC creating techniques with foam latex and plastic for live television. No pressure there. Smith held this position from 1945 to 1959 and expanded the roster of artists from one to 25 by the time he left.
Always being a man willing to share and teach his techniques, in 1965 Smith wrote Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Makeup Handbook, which his protégé, Rick Baker (legendary makeup artist with an incredible resume of his own, including Star Wars, An American Werewolf in London and Men in Black to name just a few), credits for inspiring his career.
Smith’s techniques were unique and originally shunned by other makeup artists. But it wasn’t long before they realized his work was not only an improvement on their methods, but he was reshaping the field. One of Smith’s notable changes involved layering multiple foam latex pieces, overlapping them to allow an actor full range of motion. He executed this to perfection in 1970’s film Little Big Man when he aged Dustin Hoffman from 30 to 121 years old.
Dick Smith changed the landscape of makeup in film. He raised the standards and made it a respected discipline. And amazingly, Smith created every effect during his 40 years in the business in his basement studio in Larchmont, New York, then flew to the movie sets when filming began. Maybe not the original life path for a guy who was initially a pre-med zoology major at Yale University, but the motion picture industry certainly thanks him for the change of heart.
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