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Dick Smith

  • Birthplace: Larchmont, New York
  • Birthday: June 26
Date of passing: 
July 30, 2014

Obituary

Dick Smith was a makeup artist who was considered by many to be the most innovative and influential person to ever ply the trade, which he did to masterful effect in more than half a century of films and television productions. Indeed, many of them became classics thanks to his remarkable contributions.

His body of work included the TV specials Mark Twain Tonight! and Harry S. Truman: Plain Speaking and, among feature films, Little Big Man, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Amadeus and dozens of others. 

Dick Smith was a makeup artist who was considered by many to be the most innovative and influential person to ever ply the trade, which he did to masterful effect in more than half a century of films and television productions. Indeed, many of them became classics thanks to his remarkable contributions.

His body of work included the TV specials Mark Twain Tonight! and Harry S. Truman: Plain Speaking and, among feature films, Little Big Man, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Amadeus and dozens of others. 

Born June 22, 1926, in Larchmont, New York, Smith attended Wooster School and Yale University. He originally intended to pursue dentistry, until one day, while perusing the shelves at the Yale Co-Op, he was captivated by a book titled Paint, Powder and Makeup, about stage makeup. He soon began working with the school's theater group, and a new career path was born.

Smith broke into the entertainment industry with uncredited work on the 1941 western film The Cowboy and the Blonde. In 1945, he became makeup director for NBC, in its early days as a television network, and stayed until 1959. During those years, he developed many new materials and pioneered the use of foam latex and plastics designed to meet the time constraints of live television.

One of his signficant contributions was devising a method of gluing on foam latex “appliances” in overlapping pieces, instead of using single-mold masks. This allowed actors to use their full range of facial expressions, greatly enhancing performances.

Smith's series credits during his early television years included Fireside TheatreThe Philco-Goodyear Television PlayhouseKraft TheatreThe Dinah Shore Chevy ShowRobert Montgomery PresentsThe DuPont Show of the MonthWay Out and Golden Showcase. He also worked on the TV movies The LarkMusic with Mary MartinAlice in Wonderland and Miracle on 34th Street.

He won an Emmy for the historical special Mark Twain Tonight!, in which he transformed then-42-year-old Hal Holbrook into the iconic author at 70, and received Emmy nominations on three other occasions — for the telefilm The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the special Harry S. Truman: Plain Speaking and the miniseries North and South.

In addition, from 1988 to 1991, he was a consutlant on the horror anthology series Monsters.

In the feature film realm, Smith rose to legendary status for astonishing work that included aging Dustin Hoffman from his early 30s to age 121 in Little Big Man, transforming Marlon Brando into the puffy-jowled Don Corleone in The Godfather, turning chrubic 12-year-old Linda Blair into a gruesome-faced demon in The Exorcist and creating Robert De Niro's mohawk — and all but bathing the set in blood following a climactic gunfight — in Taxi Driver.

 His other movies included It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The World of Henry Orient, Midnight Cowboy, Marathon ManThe Deer Hunter, Altered States, Scanners, The Hunger and Starman.

In 1985, he shared an Oscar for his makeup in the Mozart biopic Amadeus and in 2012 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him an honorary Oscar for his formidable body of work.

The first edition of his book, Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook, was published in 1965.

Smith died July 30, 2014, in Los Angeles. He was 92.

 

 

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