Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Classic Film Collective: All for Beauty

 This was originally published in the former The Classic Film Collective Patreon.


All for Beauty
Makeup and Hairdressing in Hollywood's Studio Era
by Adrienne L. McLean
Rutgers University Press
Paperback ISBN: 9780813563589
326 pages

Ever since I started following makeup artist and historian Erin Parsons on TikTok (watch her full-length vintage makeup collection tour on YouTube, it’s amazing!), I’ve been interested in learning more about makeup in old Hollywood. So when I saw that Rutgers University Press was publishing Adrienne L. McLean’s new book on studio era makeup and hairdressing, it was a no brainer that this book would find its way into my research library. 

All for Beauty: Makeup and Hairdressing in Hollywood’s Studio Era by Adrienne L. McLean is a scholarly text that examines the business of makeup and hairdressing within Hollywood (silent film era to the late 1960s), the emergence of artists within the industry and the techniques implemented. McLean primarily focuses on “straight makeup” which is to say it excludes costume makeup that is made to exaggerate, depict a historical period or to transform an actor into a fantastical creature. We’re talking foundation, blush, lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, false eyelashes, some contouring, body makeup. Hairdressing is less of a focus but the author does examine the use of wigs in film and how some of the top makeup artists began as wigmakers.

McLean’s book is heady stuff and not a light read. If you're interested in the subject matter, I recommend reading the book a little differently. The final chapter Cosmetics, Coiffures, Characterization is the one you should start with first. This is where movie star makeup is examined at length in terms of intent, method and end result. Then if you find yourself wanting more information on the business side of things or want to learn about the individual artists, then read the introduction and first two chapters.

The author’s intent with the book was to examine, in her words, “why people in studio-era Hollywood movies, usually but not always stars, look so unnaturally perfect on the screen.” Starting in the silent era, there was a pushback against exaggerated makeup on screen. There was a shift towards a more natural look but one that depicted an actress (and actors too) as perfectly flawless. McLean also discusses at length how patriarchy, capitalism, sexism and racism were the strongest forces behind makeup and hairdressing as a business and as a science in the industry. Key figures include: Max Factor, the Westmores, Sydney Guilaroff, Vic Meadows, William Tuttle, Robert Stephanoff, Dot Ponedel, Jack Dawn, Ben Nye, etc.

There are a numerous color and black and white photographs throughout as well as some makeup charts from specific movie productions. It’s a relatively short book at around 300 pages (229 pages of actual reading material before you get to the backmatter). But it's quite dense as its packed with lots of information.

Here are some interesting quotes from the book:

“Motion pictures are often invoked as major factors in turning ordinary women’s cosmetic use into normative, indeed indispensable, components of public femininity rather than signs of moral looseness or depravity.” 

“any application of color or shading was likely to read as a dark blotch or a stark line. Filmmakers working with orthochromatic were therefore unable to employ either foundation or rouge to represent basic states like robust health, a tan, youth, or a bloom on the cheeks. (As Kevin Brownlow remarks, silent actors are ‘strangely pale; there are no olive skins or tanned complexions’ because of the amount of greasepaint and powder used.)” 

Robert Stack wrote in his autobiography “of the efforts studio head Jack Pierce and the ‘makeup boys’ at Universal made to turn him into a ‘young Robert Taylor’ for his first starring role, opposite Deanna Durbin, in 1939, which included darkening and straightening Stack’s hair and giving him a hair lace widow’s peak.”

Lauren Bacall, a former model, had to elicit Howard Hawks’s help to keep Perc Westmore from straightening her teeth, plucking her eyebrows, shaving her hairline and in general ‘redesign[ing her] face’ for her first test in 1943 for To Have and Have Not.” [Hawks wanted her exactly as she was.]

“It was the first stop of the day for most if not all Hollywood actors and makeup artists and hairdressers became some stars’ trusted, and often influential, friends and companions. This was certainly the case with Rita Hayworth and Robert Schiffer and hairdresser Helen Hunt; Barbara Stanwyck and her hairdresser Hollis Barnes; and Marlene Dietrich, Joan Blondell, and Judy Garland and Dot Ponedel.”

“According to [Donald] Bogle, actor Herb Jeffries, who ‘had experimented with makeup for Black Americans,’ also had a substantial impact on the looks of [Lena] Horne and Dorothy Dandridge in their films and personal appearances, although white makeup artists worked on both.”

Cary Grant made himself very tan so he could avoid the use of cosmetics for his films. For North by Northwest (1959), “Eva Marie Saint had to wear foundation, according to [makeup artist William] Tuttle, ‘probably two or three shades darker than we’d put on the average man to get a closer relationship between the two.’”

"[Esther Williams] had to look perfectly groomed underwater as well as on dry land… The body makeup that WIlliam Tuttle eventually settled upon for Williams, a mica-laced powder with the salubrious name of Texas Dirt… Ultimately simple Vaseline mixed with baby oil (Sydney Guilaroff later claimed it was olive oil) was used for the maintenance of her hair in studio tanks and pools."

One of the most famous of Lena Horne’s stories about her early days at MGM in the 1940s has to do with the Max Factor company’s development of a ‘Light Egyptian’ Pan-Cake especially for her (there were other shades of ‘Egyptian’ as well), which Horne claims was instead used on white actors (like Ava Gardner as Julie LaVerne in Show Boat) who were taking roles that Horne herself was not allowed to play."

“The long scar on her left cheek that Carole Lombard suffered as the result of a 1926 automobile accident was acknowledged in interviews and fan magazines at the time, but disguised by makeup as well as careful framing in her films and publicity photos.”

In Mary Astor’s book A Life on Film she wrote “There was eyebrow shadow, brown, and mascara, black and then something that was called ‘cosmetique,’ a black cake of guck that was melted over a spirit lamp and then applied to the ends of the eyelashes with a match or a toothpick. This was ‘beading’: It accomplished what false eyelashes do today…”

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