“Hitchcock,” “The Hobbit,” and “Les Miserables” are the films vying for this year’s Academy Award for Best Make Up and Hairstyling. The Academy added the make-up category in 1981. But in 1931, the Academy presented an “extraordinary accomplishment” award to Ern Westmore for his make-up on the film “Cimarron.” If you’re a film buff, you’ve likely seen a make-up credit for one of the Westmore family members.
The Westmores created Hollywood beauty … in the faces of actresses like Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Sandra Dee and Farrah Fawcett. They also created beasts like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“We’ve got a few monsters in our background,"says Marvin Westmore, part of the third generation of the family. His grandfather, George Westmore, was a hairstylist and wigmaker from England who started a salon in Hollywood at a time when actors did their own hair and make-up. Marvin says make-up was not his grandfather’s specialty…at first.
“A lot of his customers in the salon were 'ladies of the evening' and he traded make-up lessons for hairstyling services, and that’s how he learned to do beauty make-up.” Marvin says.
George Westmore founded the first studio make-up department at Selig Studios in 1917 and was known to make house calls for rising stars seeking the perfect look. Westmore’s six sons - Monte, Ern, Perc, Wally, Frank, and Bud - followed him into the craft. They led make-up departments at other studios: Perc was the master of disguises at what would become Warner Bros. Wally was at Paramount. Ern worked at 20th Century Fox, and Bud at Universal studios.
“Their artistic abilities were phenomenal,” says Sue Cabral Ebert, President of the Make-up Artists and Hairstylist’s Guild IATSE Local 706. “The beauty and the horror that you saw coming out of all of those different studios was directly because of their involvement.”
The Westmores helped found the Guild in the late-‘30s. About that time, they also created the House of Westmore, a huge beauty salon on Sunset Boulevard, where stars and regular folks could get their hair done … and get a peek at how the make-up artists created glamorous looks for the big screen. Diagrams from the House of Westmore showing various make-up techniques are on the wall at the Guild’s Burbank headquarters.
“We actually all followed these same examples for decades and even now, you still use them when breaking down how to change the shape of a woman’s face - or a man, when developing a character,” Cabral-Ebert says.
Marvin Westmore says that’s what make-up artists do: help develop characters, tell stories and solve problems. His father Monte Westmore worked two years on “Gone With the Wind.” Marvin’s credits include Rex Harrison in “Dr. Dolittle,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” and “Blade Runner.” When he used an airbrush to apply Sean Young's make up in “Blade Runner,” Marvin remembers thinking he was the first person to an air brush in motion pictures “until I saw this book on 'Gone with the Wind' and there’s my dad, doing Olivia de Havilland, putting her foundation on with an airbrush.”
Marvin's brother Michael did the make-up on “Rocky,” the television series “Star Trek: The Next Generation," and won the Best Make-Up Oscar in 1986 for the movie, “Mask.”
To create the “mask” he used photos of Dennis, who suffered from a bone-growth disease that deformed his skull and face and left his eyes more than three inches apart.
“I said, ‘I need an actor with their eyes as far apart as we can get ’em.’ And then they hire Eric Stoltz whose eyes are real close together,” says Michael Westmore. But he made a bridge that fit between the eyes that created the illusion that they were far apart.
Michael Westmore is continuing a family tradition of teaching the art of make-up. He appears with his daughter, actress McKenzie Westmore, on the SyFy network’s “Face Off.” It’s a competition series for special effects make-up artists. Michael advises contestants while they work.
Michael Westmore says over the years his family has worked in Hollywood, make-up techniques have evolved and so have the materials they use. But he says make-up artists are still part of moviemaking - even as more films use computer-generated images.
“It hasn’t really done away with make-up,” he says. “I mean, if they have Nicole Kidman doing a part or something, they put a nose on her.”
Chances are, a Westmore will always be around to put on that nose ...or whatever touch is needed to help develop the character.