Saturday, March 17, 2012


By Robin Coons
Hollywood, May 10

The paint, powder and wig men of the studios are busy these days.

Since the rags-to-riches theme gave way to films in which flaming youth lives and suffers and emerges into old age it is up to the makeup men to exercise genius in effecting the transitions.

And if you think it’s just a simple matter of touching up the dark young hair with powder or a wig of dabbing a few artificial wrinkles on the face, you don’t know your artist – your real artist – of cinema makeup.

In “Forbidden” you saw Adolphe Menjou and Barbara Stanwyck grow old and gray.

In “The Sin of Madelon Claudet” Helen Hayes changed from a young girl into an old woman.

In “So Big” Miss Stanwyck again bows to the years.

And now in “Strange Interlude” Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, Alexander Kirkland and Ralph Morgan all age gradually through 30 years of plot development.

In Miss Shearer’s case, according to Cecil Helland, the M-G-M makeup man, aging was comparatively simple. In the film her years are marked by worry, mainly, and therefore her hair streaks gradually with gray, while the accentuation of natural shadows in her face remarks the gentle attacks of time. She remains, even nearing 50, a woman of beauty.

It was Gable who presented a problem. Clark has, besides strong features, sparkling eyes. Old folks’ eyes don’t sparkle like Clark’s. They had to “shade out” those optics by softening the eyebrows and toning down the lashes. They each eyelid was lifted and lined inside with a harmless fluid to dim the sparkle.

Adding spectacles furthered the effect. To complete the transformation he is given a mustache, his hairline is pushed back and his face is grayed generally.

Baldness, double chins and wrinkles added age to Kirkland, but in some scenes it was necessary to “rejuvenate” Morgan who in reality is a middle-aged man.

In the final scenes, however, even Morgan’s middle-age didn’t suffice and the art of the makeup man was called upon.

Considering this make-up problem, even without the extra recording work involved in getting “Strange Interlude’s” spoken thoughts, it is little wonder that the set is called the busiest in Hollywood.


Ann ODyne said...

Lovely blog - this is my first visit. Only brave actresses do this. I remember how shocked everybody was when the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor allowed herself to portray a haggard woman in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolf?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a big fan of HH blog and have finally got around to starting my own blog about Basil Rathbone, who's been one of my curious obsessions since I was about ten years old!
The Baz: the multifarious talent & gorgeousness of Basil Rathbone

It's just my own take on what fascinates me, but I hope people enjoy reading it a tiny fraction of the amount I've enjoyed setting it up!

Anonymous said...

Love this blog. How do you find so many good quality photo?

Anonymous said...

linked to you BTW

Anonymous said...

Anything wrong here? No entries since March? I loved reading this informative, please bring it back.

Reel Old Films said...

I stumbled across your blog and I like the focus on classic movies, but I haven't seen anything new in awhile. Would you have any interest in a guest post from a fellow classic movie fan?

Kate Pollack said...


I was unsure how to contact you directly. I am a researcher with the American Pomeroy Historic Genealogical Association in Syracuse, NY. Our organization has been researching old Hollywood special effects and sound engineering technician and director Roy Pomeroy. A few years back, we were contacted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because they thought perhaps we could track down Roy's missing Oscar for his work on 1927's "Wings" (the first movie to win Best Picture). Roy had a fascinating life that ended tragically, and he had no descendants. I have written an article about him and was wondering if you would like to link to or repost. Here is Part I of Roy's story:

Part II is also up now. We would love to gain more readership for this story and perhaps an answer to the mystery of Roy's death (which looks like a suicide) and the missing Oscar. I thought by contacting others who write about Old Hollywood, this could be a way to do it. Let me know if you are interested!

Thanks so much,

Kate Corbett Pollack