Howard Smit

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Howard Smit
Born April 19, 1911
Chicago, Illinois
Died August 1, 2009
Tarzana, California

Howard J. Smit (April 19, 1911 – August 1, 2009) was a pioneering American film make-up artist known for his work on films including The Birds and The Wizard of Oz.[1] Smit also spearheaded the movement to establish the Academy Award for Best Makeup to recognize the profession within the film industry.[2] He also successfully pushed studios to credit film make-up artists in a movie's screen credits.[1]

Smit became a founding member of the IATSE local 706, Make-up and Hairstylists Guild chapter, in 1937.[1]

Early life[edit]

Howard Smit was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 19, 1911.[3] He moved with his parents to Los Angeles, where he eventually enrolled in law school.[3]


Smit began working as a make-up artist at RKO Studios in order to pay for law school.[3] He soon dropped out of law school and became a film studio make-up apprentice.[3] He freelanced for several studios and businesses, including MGM Studios, Republic Studios and Max Factor.[3]

Smit's earliest work film work included in the make-up departments of The Wizard of Oz and Gunga Din.[1] Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Smit worked on a number of feature films, especially Westerns.[1] He worked with some of Hollywood's best known actors of the time, including Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, Ethel Barrymore, Roy Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Dale Evans, Lionel Barrymore, and Robert Mitchum.[1][2]

Smit worked on two of Alfred Hitchcock's films in the 1960s, Marnie and The Birds.[1]

He switched to television and later worked on the Mod Squad and The Streets of San Francisco.[1][3]

Industry work[edit]

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees offered the Hollywood Motion Picture Make-up Artists Association a union charter in 1937.[3] The charter led to the foundation of the IATSE local 706, Make-up and Hairstylists Guild chapter, in 1937, of which Smit was a founding member. Smit remained active with the Make-up and Hairstylists Guild and other related unions and organizations for more than 60 years, until his retirement in 1994.[1]

Smit served as the president of the IATSE local 706, Make-up and Hairstylists Guild for two terms.[1] Smit was first elected president in 1953 and re-elected to a second term in 1955.[3] He later became a member of Make-up and Hairstylists Guild executive board of directors.[1] Smit served as the union's business representative from 1974 until 1994, and remained business representative emeritus following his retirement.[3]

Beginning in the 1950s, Smit pushed for pension, health and welfare benefits for Hollywood's make-up artists and hairstylists. Smit's efforts were successful and these benefits are now part of the industry's Basic Agreement contract.[1][2]

Smit and John Inzerella successfully spearheaded efforts to require film studios to include a mandatory contractual clause that credited make-up artists and hairstylists in a movie's screen credits.[1][3] The compulsory screen credits for a film's make-up artists were adopted in the 1980s.[2] Smit also negotiated a five-day work week for film make-up artists.[3]

Smit and Inzerella also led the campaign to establish the Academy Award for Best Makeup as a recognition of make-up artists by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[1] Smit's efforts were rewarded in 1981 when the Academy created the first Oscar category for "achievement in make-up."[3] The inaugural Academy Award for film make-up was awarded in 1982 to make-up artist Rick Baker for his work on An American Werewolf in London.[2] The Make-up and Hairstylists Guild honored Smit for his efforts in establishing the Academy Award for achievement in make-up by creating the Smitty Award in his honor.[1]

Smit established the Deb Star Ball in 1953, an industry event which was held annually for 15 years.[2] The proceeds from the ball were used to fund the IATSE Local 706 welfare committee.[2] Those honored at the Deb Star Ball included Jill St. John, Mary Ann Mobley, Kim Novak and Tuesday Weld.[2]

Smit served as both a Governor and a board member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.[1][3] He also worked as a director for the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Fund.[1]

Smit was shot and wounded by another make-up artist Donl Morse in 1986,[4] as he was exiting a board meeting of the Make-up and Hairstylists Guild.[2] Smit's assailant later shot and killed two Los Angeles police officers at the perpetrator's home.[1] Smit recovered from the shooting. He continued to serve on the Make-up Guild for eight more years until his retirement in 1994.[1][2]

He also developed a line of moisturizing cream which was sold in stores under the name, Stage Ten Cosmetics.[3]


Howard Smit died at the Providence Tarzana Medical Center on August 1, 2009, in Tarzana, California, at the age of 98.[1][2] His first wife, Edith Smit, whom he had been married to for more than 40 years, was a body make-up artist.[1] Smit's second wife, Isabelle, died on June 26, 2009.[1]

Funeral services were held at the Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Saperstein, Pat (2009-08-04). "Makeup artist Howard Smit dies at 98". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Barnes, Mike (2009-08-04). "Makeup artist Howard J. Smit dies". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Wisner, Heather (2009-08-03). "Howard Smit, Longtime Make-up Artist and Union Pioneer, Dies at 98". Make-Up Artist Magazine. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  4. ^ Malnic, Eric (1986-02-12). "Murder Charges to Be Filed Today in Officers' Pipe Bomb Deaths". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 

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