Classic Hollywood: Hollywood’s Westmore family? They’re like the Barrymores, but makeup artists
Hollywood has had more than its share of dynasties such as the Barrymores (actors John, Ethel, Lionel and Drew) and the Hustons (actors Walter, Anjelica and Jack and director John). And then there are the Westmores.
Though not household names to the public, for nearly a century members of the family have been preeminent makeup artists who have worked on legendary films and popular TV series.
George Westmore, a British hairdresser and wig maker who was Winston Churchill’s barber, established the first makeup department in Hollywood in 1917. Six of his sons — Monte, Perc, Ern, Wally, Bud and Frank — followed in their father’s footsteps.
Initially, Oscar and nine-time Emmy Award-winning Michael Westmore didn’t want to go into the family business. The son of Monte Westmore, who was Rudolph Valentino’s makeup artist and also provided the makeup for such films as “Gone With the Wind,” Michael Westmore was an art history major at UC Santa Barbara with dreams of going into archaeology and museum work.
“I was planning to go to Berkeley after I graduated from Santa Barbara,” said the 77-year-old Westmore, relaxing in the living room of his expansive and quirky Encino house filled with such diverse decor as posters of his films, carousel horses, his Emmys — he won for such “Star Trek” series as “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” — and his Oscar for 1985’s “Mask.”
But when Westmore was trying to decide on a master’s degree, things began to look bleak. “I didn’t speak any foreign language, so I couldn’t do anything in Europe except maybe England and America. I wasn’t interested in American art.”
Then he received a call from his Uncle Bud, who worked at Universal on such films as the sci-fi favorite “Creature From the Black Lagoon” inquiring if he would like to be an apprentice at the studio makeup department. “I really wasn’t interested,” said Westmore. “I wanted to graduate and enjoyed going to school.”
So Bud Westmore sweetened the deal. He would wait a year so his nephew could graduate from college. “In the back of my mind, I kept saying if I don’t like it, I’ll go back to school.”
He never did.
Westmore started at Universal on Jan. 30, 1961, where he was mentored not only by his uncle but John Chambers (“Planet of the Apes”), whom John Goodman played in 2012’s “Argo,” on the 1963 John Huston film “The List of Adrian Messenger.”
And now Westmore is a mentor on “Face Off,” SyFy’s reality competition series in which special effects makeup artists must accomplish elaborate weekly challenges. The series, which began its 10th season this month, is also hosted by his daughter actress McKenzie Westmore (“Passions,” “All My Children”).
Every week, Westmore checks in with the participants in the early stages of the challenges, critiques their work and offers suggestions.
Even before the season begins, Westmore gives a one-hour class for the contestants. “They all come in with different degrees [of experience]. I talk about mold making and sculpting because there are major mistakes that new people make. I made all of those mistakes.”
McKenzie Westmore, who worked as a makeup model for her father and appeared in shows he was working on such as “Star Trek: Enterprise,” said that her father initially went in for a meeting to be a regular judge on the show.
“He asked the producers if they had a host for the show,” she said via email. “They hadn’t at the time, so my dad mentioned me, saying that my background is not just as an actress but with a knowledge of this industry having grown up around it and by my father’s side. A few seasons into the series is when they decided to bring my father in as the show’s mentor.”
Working together has been a dream job for both of them. “I get to spend more time with my father than I ever had before,” said Westmore. “He traveled so much when I was younger on so many different locations to have this time with him now on ‘Face Off’ is priceless.”
Michael Westmore spent 18 months working with Martin Scorsese on his 1980 masterpiece “Raging Bull” starring Robert De Niro in his Oscar-winning role as boxer Jake LaMotta. Westmore provided the realistic, innovative makeup that made the boxing sequences so visceral.
“With ‘Raging Bull,’ I had tubes that came across the front of the face to the nose so blood would spurt out of the nose,” said Westmore. “I even had boxing gloves rigged with tubes, so blood would come out of the boxing gloves as they went by the face.”
And he had to adjust the makeup after De Niro gained weight to play the older LaMotta. “I had to make the nose bigger and flatter with more scars on it,” Westmore said.
In the scene when the older LaMotta is in his dressing room reflecting on his past, Westmore and hairstylist Jean Reilly manually thinned the actor’s hair.
“We took his hair and combed a whole line of it forward,” noted Westmore. “With Jean on one side and me on the other, we went in and we cut every other hair. And then we would comb back down another layer and cut every other hair, so when you see the thinning hair on him it’s not a bald cap or a wig, it’s really his hair.”
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