Toeing the Line: Sampling secrets of movie makeup

This is a good week to be Cinema Secrets, the Burbank institution that has been keeping people in makeup since 1984. On Saturday, there will be lines of Halloween celebrants waiting to pay hundreds of dollars to the professional makeup artists on hand to turn them into wizards, zombies, aliens, or even those most frightening of all characters, politicians.

Whether you're in the market to look like one of the dudes from "Twilight," a killer clown or Miley Cyrus, the folks at Cinema Secrets can make it happen. The shelves boast every kind of prosthetic, mask, costume, makeup kit and visual FX supply imaginable. And if you don't want to do it yourself, they've got a pro that is more than happy to do it for you.

But Halloween season ends, unfortunately, and come Nov. 1, the challenges of being a non-essential business coming out of a recession will resume for Cinema Secrets. Not that its founder, the renowned Hollywood makeup artist Maurice Stein, is especially concerned.

"We had a 3 1/2-year period during this downturn that nearly broke us," the now semi-retired Stein admitted to a visitor earlier this week. "Things are getting better now."

What's happened to his business is the same thing that's impacted so many other areas of the Hollywood community — namely, runaway production. Stein estimates that until recently, roughly 40% of his company's business — which includes the Cinema Secrets make-up line he founded 20 years ago — came from the studios. Over the past five years, it's dwindled to a fraction of that.

"The writers' strike in 2007 and '08 just whacked us in the stomach," Stein says. "It's almost like it stopped overnight. But fortunately, we also supply to the medical industry. And our store has really helped keep us going during a very tough period."

That store has been a Stein family affair since day one. (It's been in the current location on Riverside Drive, across from the legendary Bob's Big Boy, since 1988). His daughter, Debra, and sons, Michael and Danny, run things now, and a handful of his grandkids can be found there on any given day trolling the floor.

But the immediate future promises a fresh new test for Cinema Secrets. The building was sold last year to a landlord who is sub-leasing part of the structure to a new restaurant, Lemonade, that's expected to begin construction in January. If approved by the Burbank City Council early next month, the arrangement will require Cinema Secrets to make do with a full third less space than it currently enjoys.

"We'll just have to make it work," Stein reasons simply. "I'll lose my office, and we'll need to do a lot of condensing, that's all."

Adds Danny Stein, "We'll be knocking out a lot of walls, so we won't be losing much actual retail square footage."

Simply spending a few minutes with the warm and gracious Stein is sufficient to leave anyone convinced that it's all going to be fine. The bearded, bespectacled gentleman — who looks and acts easily 10 years younger than his 79 years — exudes the calm of Buddha. That mild temperament no doubt came in handy when he worked as a hair and make-up maestro on productions including "M*A*S*H," the original "Star Trek," "The Love Boat," "The Golden Girls" and the Oscar-winning makeup team on "Planet of the Apes" in 1969.

Stein's most enduring contribution over the past few decades has been his creation of an oil-free, silicone-based foundation primer makeup that's proven a favorite not only of film and TV professionals, but also people suffering various skin disorders, burns and scarring who require a milder product.

Of course, for Halloween, those beating a path to Cinema Secrets are perhaps more interested in what Stein and his people can do to add unsightly blemishes and flaws to their appearance. And they're only too happy to oblige.

"People drive from all over to come here and get turned into monsters and cartoon characters," he said. "As I always tell them, give me enough time and enough money and I'll make you anything you want to be. There's really no limit. That's the beauty of what we do."


RAY RICHMOND has covered Hollywood and the entertainment business since 1984. He can be reached via email at and Twitter at @MeGoodWriter.

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