Beauty and the Beasts | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Beauty and the Beasts

Coming from a long line of tortured but brilliant makeup artists, Michael Westmore has put the past behind him, boldly going where no one has gone before

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Michael Westmore has bloodied and broken Robert De Niro's nose 21 times, reports writer Jake Page. And that's not all: over the course of his storied career as Hollywood's most versatile makeup artist, Westmore not only worked De Niro over for Raging Bull, but won an Oscar for his work in Mask, made up Sylvester Stallone for most of the Rocky series and gave gruesome radiation burns to 1,500 extras in The Day After.

Westmore is one of the third generation in a greasepaint dynasty that stretches back to Hollywood's golden age, a family of eccentric and tempestuous makeup geniuses who have adorned, disguised and altered an astounding number of the world's most recognizable faces. In Hollywood's heyday, almost all of the major studios had a Westmore heading up their makeup departments. Westmores were responsible for creating Mary Pickford's curls and Rudolph Valentino's plucked eyebrows, changing Dr. Jeckyll into Mr. Hyde and Charles Laughton into the hunchback of Notre Dame, and transforming Bette Davis into Queen Elizabeth.

Michael Westmore's own particular genius is with "appliances," artful constructions of foam rubber and paint. In 1987, he was invited to head the makeup and hair department for the weekly television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Between this series and the two that followed, Westmore has created many dozens of alien species.

"Aliens exuding humanity, monsters both terrible and lovable, and the beautiful faces of nearly a century of stars.... All it takes," writes Jake Page, "is some good genes...and a bit of Westmore magic."

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