Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

R.I.P. Dick Smith, legendary movie makeup artist

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. Dick Smith, legendary movie makeup artist

Legendary movie makeup artist Dick Smith has died at the age of 92. Smith won an Academy Award for the aging makeup worn by F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus (1984), and he was also nominated for aging Jack Lemmon in the 1989 Dad. Other actors who benefited from Smith’s talent for convincingly adding decades to famous faces include Marlon Brando in The Godfather (1972), Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man (1970), Walter Matthau in The Sunshine Boys (1975), and Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, in a 1967 story arc of the TV series Dark Shadows.

Smith was also adept at combining prosthetic makeup with more kinetic kinds of effects, as he demonstrated in The Exorcist (1973), the violent shootout at the end of Taxi Driver (1976), and the notorious exploding-head scene in David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981).

Smith began working in theatrical makeup with the Yale drama group while studying as a pre-med. He began his professional career as NBC Television’s first makeup director. During his 14 years there, he began to develop his then-revolutionary technique of applying foam latex makeup in small pieces, rather than encasing the actor in a single, inexpressive mask. The time-consuming methods Smith developed were considered controversial, but they’ve long since become an industry standard. Smith was also famously generous with his time and advice to young artists on their way up. It was one of his best-known protégées, Rick Baker, who announced his passing on Twitter this morning, saying, “The master is gone… The world will not be the same.”


Some of the other most notable productions among Smith’s many credits include a 1967 TV version of Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight!, which won him an Emmy; Midnight Cowboy (1969); The Deer Hunter (1978); Altered States (1980); Starman (1984); Death Becomes Her (1992); and the syndicated TV series Monsters (1988-1991), where he served as special effects makeup consultant. In addition to his other accolades, he was given an honorary Governor’s Academy Award for his lifetime contributions to the art of movies in 2012.