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October 19, 2009

Makeup Artist Howard Smit Dies

Guild leader and Television Academy governor

Howard Smit, a pioneering makeup artist who co-founded the Local 706 branch of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and was an active participant in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, died August 1, 2009, in Tarzana, California. He was 98 years old.

Born in Chicago on April 19, 1911, Smit moved to Los Angeles with his parents. He is reported to have begun working in the makeup field in order to pay for his law school expenses. He started in television in the mid-1930s at experimental station W6XAO, and moved on to RKO Studios, where he became a makeup apprentice. He also worked for Max Factor, MGM and Republic Studios.

Over the course of his career, Smit worked as a makeup artist on 50 feature films and television productions. His early film credits included such classics as The Wizard of Oz and Gunga Din. He later did makeup for stars such as Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, Lionel Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, Myrna Loy, Robert Mitchum, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. For director Alfred Hitchcock, he created makeup for the movies The Birds and Marnie. He also moved into television, and was a makeup artist on the popular series show The Mod Squad.

An early advocate of union representation for those in his field, Smit was a founding member of IATSE local 706, Makeup and Hair Stylists Guild, when the organization was granted a charter in 1937. He served two terms as president, in 1953 and 1955. His legal background proved useful in efforts to acquire contractual pension, health and welfare benefits for members of the union.

In 1953, on behalf of the Guild, Smit organized the Deb Star Ball, a 15-year tradition that drew attention to up-and-coming actresses. Performers recognized included Kim Novak, Tuesday Weld, Jill St. John and Mary Ann Mobley. Proceeds from the event helped to establish Local 706’s welfare committee.

He served as the Guild’s business representative from 1974-1994, and later as business representative emeritus. In the 1980s, with colleague John Inzerella, Smit was a key advocate of the push to make it mandatory for studios to include makeup artists and hair stylists in film and television credits. He also worked on a campaign that established the Oscar for makeup, which was first awarded in 1982. The Guild established the Smitty Award in his honor.

In addition to his work at Local 706, Smit was a director of the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Fund and served multiple terms as a governor of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. In recognition for his many years of service to the Television Academy, he received the Syd Cassyd Founder’s Award in 2000.

On November 21, 1997, Smit was interviewed for the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. The three-and-a-half-hour interview, conducted by Byrd Holland, took place at Smit’s Studio City home.

During the conversation, Smit discussed his motion picture career, working on such films The Wizard of Oz and The Birds, as well as the development of makeup for television shows such as The Gene Autry Show, Dragnet, The Red Skelton Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Rifleman and The Mod Squad.

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