Dick Smith (make-up artist)

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This article is about the make-up artist. For other uses, see Dick Smith (disambiguation).
Dick Smith
Born (1922-06-26) June 26, 1922 (age 92)
Larchmont, New York, USA
Occupation makeup artist
Years active 1948–99
Spouse(s) Jocelyn De Rosa (January 10, 1944-present)
Children 2

Richard Emerson "Dick" Smith (born June 26, 1922) is an American special effects make-up artist (nicknamed "The Godfather of Make-Up") known for his work on such films as Little Big Man, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, and Scanners. He won a 1985 Academy Award for Makeup for his work on Amadeus and a 2012 Honorary Academy Award for his career's work.

Early life[edit]

Smith was born in Larchmont, New York, the son of Coral (née Brown) and Richard Roy Smith.[1] He attended the Wooster School and Yale University, the latter where he studied pre-med, with the intention of entering dentistry. After reading a book on Hollywood make-up techniques, he began administering make-up for the Yale drama group.[citation needed]


Smith entered the field full-time after graduation. He was NBC's first makeup director, serving for fourteen years, pioneering in the development of latex and plastics used in quick-change applications.

Smith pioneered the method of applying prosthetics made from foam latex in small pieces as opposed to the standard of applying a latex mask as one solid piece. Smith's technique allowed the actor to have a wide range of facial expressions, making the makeup appear more natural. Despite initial criticism from many professional makeup artists at the time, Smith's makeup techniques proved to be superior. Today, the standard methods of applying prosthetics are those that Smith invented.[2]

Early work by Smith was seen on a short-lived syndicated supernatural Twilight Zone clone TV show produced by David Susskind out of New York in 1961 called Way Out, hosted by Roald Dahl. Most memorable was a make-up of a man who had half of his face suddenly erased by a spilled vial of photo retouching fluid that affected real people when merely applied to their photos. In another Way Out episode, a Hunchback of Notre Dame make-up created by Smith becomes permanently affixed to an evil actor who then became his character and could never remove his make-up. Smith contributed to 14 other memorable Way Out episodes, and other 60's television shows as well.

In 1965, Smith published an instructional book, entitled Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook, a special edition of Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine series.

In 1967, Smith provided special make-up for two episodes of the vampire soap opera Dark Shadows; in the storyline, vampire Barnabas Collins was undergoing medical treatment to change him into a living human being. The experiment goes drastically wrong, and Barnabas ages rapidly, to the appearance of a man over 175 years old. Smith said that designing the make-up appliances for Dark Shadows "turned out to be valuable preparation for Little Big Man." [3]

Smith was also one of the early pioneers of combining make-up with on-set 'practical' special effects,[citation needed] starting with The Exorcist in 1973. Though many of Smith's make-up effects were so well conceived as to go undetected, Smith's expertise gained prominence and acclaim through the variety and ingenuity of his many effects for The Exorcist.[citation needed] He also created the makeup for Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle character in Taxi Driver as well as created the effects for the bloodbath at the film's climax.[4]

Director Mike Nichols originally hired actress Karen Black to play the role of the sexpot Bobbie in Carnal Knowledge. When Nichols decided on a nude scene, he had Smith, who had been hired to create aging effects for the male characters that were never used, to fashion artificial breasts for Black. Disappointed by the way the artificial breasts moved, Nichols replaced Black with Ann Margret, who had large, natural breasts. Smith later recycled the foam rubber breasts in The Stepford Wives for the scene in which Katharine Ross played her robotic replacement in a nightie.

Smith's expertise with aging makeup effects was in evidence with his old-age makeup for Dustin Hoffman in Arthur Penn's 1970 film Little Big Man, in which the actor played a centenarian at points in the film. (Smith had earlier worked with Hoffman developing his Ratso Rizzo character's makeup in Midnight Cowboy.) To create an aged Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Smith used a dental device called a "plumper" to droop the actor's jowls. The transformation was so real that Brando could eat at local restaurants around the set of the film without being recognized. For the 1985 film Amadeus, for which Smith won an Academy Award for Makeup, he transformed lead actor F. Murray Abraham from a young into an elderly man.

Smith was awarded 2012 Honorary Academy Award for his career's work.[5]


  1. ^ "Dick Smith Biography (1922-)". Film Reference. Retrieved October 2, 2012.
  2. ^ Nick Thomas (November 25, 2007). "Dick Smith, the Guy Who Changed the Face of Film". The Washington Post. 
  3. ^ Smith, Dick. "Dark Shadows, Television Series - 1967". Dick Smith: Special Makeup Effects Training. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Bouzereau, Laurent (1999). Making 'Taxi Driver' (Video). Los Angeles: Columbia TriStar Home Video. 
  5. ^ Fowler Brandi; Marquina , Sierra (November 13, 2011). "Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones, & Dick Smith Receive Honorary Academy Awards" E! Online.

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