The actors in the earliest Hollywood movies came ready for the camera in makeup. And that makeup was usually a carry over from the stage – powder and greasepaint in the form of different colored sticks, applied by themselves. Eyes were accented, faces whitened, and lips darkened – even for men. The most striking examples were the looks of Theda Bara as Cleopatra – or in her various “Vamp” roles with her dark eyeshadow for Fox in the 1910s . While her look made her an early star, by the 1920s the Vamp look was out, only to return to style with Goth fashion starting in the late 1970s.
Like Theda Bara, Lon Chaney applied his own makeup, but for “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” this involved much creativity. He starred in such classics of the silent era as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Phantom of the Opera (1925), and The Unknown (1927). In addition to his talents in makeup, his acting was sublime. Both of his parents were deaf, and he developed with them facial expressive and non-verbal communication that he used in his art as a silent film actor.
Lon Chaney’s makeup kit above is in the collection of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Curator Beth Werling has stated that the Chaney Collection is the most famous among the museum’s motion picture memorabilia.
When it became apparent that the close-up was a valuable tool of cinematography – makeup became more natural for normal acting roles. This was also due to the look which resulted from using orthochromatic film stock throughout the 1920s. It was sensitive to the blue-violet end of the color spectrum, making these colors appear light while the yellow-red appeared darker. Early female makeup had idealized a light face with smoky eyes that “opened them up,” further emphasized with a higher eyebrow. The rouged or highlighted lips was not so much to emphasize the lips, a usual assumption, but to emphasize white healthy teeth – the reason for the big smiles. The perception of beauty from the latter is an evolutionary and instinctual response.
It was Polish -Jewish émigré wigmaker Max Factor that developed the makeup that stars and movies needed, He moved to Los Angeles in 1904 and entered the cosmetics business. He supplied the human-hair wig for Dustin Farnum in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Squaw Man in 1914. The Max Factor Company was soon supplying Hollywood studios all the wigs they needed – these for period or contemporary films. Factor was also developing a flexible greasepaint more suitable for movie stars. And after that Factor worked with individual stars to develop makeup in their own flesh tones. Factor’s improvements in makeup corresponded to improvements in film stock by Kodak. Orthochromatic film was replaced by Panchromatic film. which was sensitive to the full color spectrum. Although it was available in the 1920s, it was too expensive for regular studio use. But by 1930 Kodak discontinued manufacturing orthochromatic motion picture film and the panchromatic had become cheaper. Max’s son Frank Factor developed the “Pan-Cake” makeup, which was more suitable for Technicolor film, and since it was applied with a damp sponge, and had a matte finish, it concealed surface imperfections. It was first used for the movie Vogues of 1938 starring Joan Bennett and Helen Vinson.
Movie star hairstyles often set trends in the classic era. The bobbed hair of Clara Bow and Louise Brooks made the style popular for the young flappers of the Jazz Age. This changed to the marcelled finger waves popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The later were made possible by the invention of the curling iron by Marcel Grateau. When the U.S entered World War II and women went to work in factories, the U.S. Government encouraged movie studios to show actresses with “updo” hairstyles, which paralleled women plant workers going to work with their hair wrapped up and out of the way of tools and moving parts. But no sooner was the war over than women let their hair down on-screen, exemplified by the Veronica Lake side-swept “peekaboo,” and Rita Hayworth’s long wavy mane. The high thin eyebrows of the 1930s disappeared in the early 1940s. The trend for a natural and thicker eyebrow came not from Hollywood, but from the influence of the young socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, who was modeling in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar by 1940 at the age of 15. Vanderbilt influenced the younger Elizabeth Taylor, and from there every teenage girl in America.
Regardless of the hairstyles in fashion, the need for continuity in filming scenes often required the use of wigs. The wigs would remain stable in their appearance while the real hair of an actress (or actor) would constantly change. Wigs were also cheaper, even real hair wigs custom made for the star, rather than having a hair stylist constantly redoing a hairstyle to look like the last take. Nellie Manley was a hairstylist that began working in the 1930s. She styled Marlene Dietrich’s hair in The Garden of Allah in 1936. She was the Hair Style Supervisor for Vertigo in 1958. In Vertigo, Kim Novak’s costumes, and her wig hairstyle with its twirled bun, were the defining characteristic for Scottie’s obsessive vision of Madeleine. Nellie Manley worked through the 1960s.
The epitome of wig making and use in classic film occurred for the production of M-G-M’s Marie Antoinette (1938). Norma Shearer starred in the title role. The Max Factor company reportedly made 903 white wigs for the Marie Antoinette cast, plus an additional 1,200 wigs for the extras. The Max Factor Co. assembled nine binders full of photos of the Marie Antoinette cast in costume, with hair and makeup. M-G-M’s hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff also designed 18 wigs for Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette. While the white, shiny wigs made for great spectacle, they were not authentic to the period. All the wigs of 18th Century were powdered and appeared gray, as can be seen in painted portraits of the era. See Kendra Van Cleave’s excellent blog post on that subject. Sydney Guilaroff was M-G-M’s chief hairstylist. He had made a name for himself cutting Louise Brook’s bobbed hair. Joan Crawford regularly used his services in New York and talked Louis B. Mayer into hiring him. Guilaroff stayed at M-G-M through 1969. Hairstylists were rarely credited until modern times. A veteran from M-G-M that went on to work in television was Peggy Shannon. She was working at M-G-M by 1958 on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and had become Joan Crawford’s personal hairstylist from 1959 through the 1960s.
M-G-M’ s makeup department had begun with English born Cecil Holland in 1927. He was a former stage actor that had learned by applying his own makeup, and then doing so for other actors. He did makeup for the war-scarred face of Lewis Stone in Grand Hotel (1932). Jack Dawn succeeded him in 1934, with William Tuttle as his assistant.
One of the great early makeup artists was the late Jack Pierce. He worked at Universal Pictures when their classic monster movies were made: Dracula; Frankenstein; The Bride of Frankenstein; The Wolfman, and others. His story of working with Boris Karloff to develop the look of Frankenstein’s monster, undescribed in the original novel, is pure classic Hollywood movie-making – a story of agony and ecstasy. Pierce even changed the monster’s makeup after he was scarred in the fire, with gradual healing. For the Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester’s classic hairstyle wig was the product of both director James Whale and Pierce’s idea to make it resemble the profile of the crowned Nefertiti.
The famous Westmore makeup family started with English wigmaker George Westmore. He established the first Hollywood studio makeup department at the Selig studio. Westmore made Mary Pickford’s false ringlets.. But his most famous product, along with his first wife Ada (who died in 1923) were his six sons, all of whom followed him in the studio makeup business and had stellar careers. A third generation of Westmores followed in their footsteps. Wally Westmore at Paramount aged Barbara Stanwyck from a teenager to a centenarian in The Great Man’s Lady in 1941. Perc Westmore worked on virtually all the great films and actresses and actors at Warner Bros. during its Golden Age.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) is usually credited with introducing pre-fabricated foam-latex prosthetics (or appliances as they are known in the trade) in makeup. Jack Dawn was the head of M-G-M’s makeup department but each character in Oz had their own makeup artist, which included the lead makeup artists William Tuttle and Charles Schram, both of whom had apprenticed with Dawn. Tuttle won an Honorary Oscar for his makeup work on The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), encouraged the Academy to institute the Makeup Award category. Tuttle also worked on the Moorloks in The Time Machine and dozens of well-known movies.
But big advances in prosthetics were made by John Chambers, Ben Nye and a team of 80 working on the makeup on the movie Planet of the Apes in 1968. Of course CGI and SFX makeup these days can do almost anything, but the progress from Lon Chaney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame to The Planet of the Apes in 45 years is truly amazing.