Larchmont, New York, 26 June 1922.
Attended Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, graduated 1943.
During World War II.
Worked in theater groups; 1945—joined NBC as staff artist, then
founded and head of makeup department for NBCTV until 1959, and
responsible for all shows, including
The Last War
A Christmas Carol
Alice in Wonderland
The Alligator People
The Moon and Sixpence
The Picture of Dorian Gray
; later TV work includes
The Power and the Glory
, 1961, and
Mark Twain Tonight!
, 1967; 1962—first makeup film design, for
Requiem for a Heavyweight
Academy Award and British Academy Award, for
Requiem for a Heavyweight (Nelson); All the Way Home (Segal); It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer) (co)
The Cardinal (Preminger) (co)
What a Way to Go! (Lee Thompson) (co); Marco the Magnificent (de la Patellière); The World of Henry Orient (Hill)
Harvey Middleman, Fireman (Pintoff)
Me, Natalie (Coe); Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger) (consultant)
House of Dark Shadows (Curtis); Little Big Man (Penn) (co)
Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things about Me? (Grosbard)
The Godfather (Coppola)
The Exorcist (Friedkin)
The Godfather, Part II (Coppola)
The Sunshine Boys (Ross); The Stepford Wives (Forbes)
Burnt Offerings (Curtis); Taxi Driver (Scorsese)
Marathon Man (Schlesinger); The Sentinel (Winner); Exorcist II: The Heretic (Boorman)
The Fury (De Palma) (uncredited); The Deer Hunter (Cimino)
Altered States (Russell)
Ghost Story (Irvin); Nighthawks (Malmuth); Dogs of War (Irvin); Scanners (Cronenberg); The Fan (Bianchi)
The Hunger (Scott) (co)
Poltergeist III (Sherman); Everybody's All American (Hackford)
Suito Homu ( Sweet Home ) (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (Harrison)
Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), April 1974.
Cinefantastique (New York), Winter 1974.
Ecran Fantastique (Paris), nos. 21 and 22, 1981–82.
Cinefantastique (New York), February 1982.
Cinefantastique (New York), April/May 1985.
Cinefantastique (New York), July 1985.
Cinefex (Riverside), June 1995.
Photoplay (London), October 1978.
Film Comment (New York), November/December 1978.
Taylor, Al, and Sue Roy, Making a Monster , New York, 1980.
Cinefantastique (New York), Summer 1981.
Mandell, Paul R., in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1983.
Shannon, J., "Aging Gracefully with Dick Smith," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), no. 33, February 1988.
Morgan, D., "Death and Aging. A Corleone Chronicle," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), no. 46, May 1991.
TCI , May 1993.
Crisafulli, C., "Making It Up as You Go Along: The "Way Out" World of Dick Smith," in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 41, October/November 1993.
* * *
After years of lobbying for attention, the makeup artists of Hollywood finally won recognition with the establishment of a permanent makeup Academy Award category in 1981. It is unfortunate that it took the grotesqueries of the modern horror film to garner such recognition, for much extremely creative work has been done in the makeup field throughout the history of the cinema, from the obvious brilliance of Karloff's Frankenstein and Welles's Kane to the more subtle changes that made Marilyn Monroe the most remarkable face of the 1950s.
Among the artists long overdue recognition is Dick Smith. While he shared the 1984 Oscar with Paul Le Blanc for Amadeus , his remarkable career began in the 1930s when he was a student doing makeup for the Yale drama group. Unquestionably the first important makeup artist of television—he was the first staff makeup artist at NBC and was director of their makeup department for 14 years—he worked on such plays as Way Out , Dark Shadow , the "live" presentation of Victoria Regina in which Claire Bloom aged from 28 to 80 during the hour-long presentation, and David Susskind's production of The Picture of Dorian Gray . His many developments and inventions during that tenure include makeup for color television and foam-latex masks flexible enough to allow for the performer's own facial expressions.
In the 1960s Smith began to work in feature films. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he created an impressive gallery of remarkable faces: Dustin Hoffman as the 121-year-old Jack Crabbe in Little Big Man ; Marlon Brando as the aging Mafia boss Don Corleone in The Godfather ; Linda Blair as the levitating, venom-spitting Regan, object of aged Max von Sydow's priestly ministrations, in The Exorcist ; Robert De Niro as the increasingly manic Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver ; William Hurt as Eddie Jessup metamorphosed into a Neanderthal man in Altered States ; David Bowie's transformations from 18 through 190 in The Hunger .
Much of Smith's work took a considerable length of time and the patience of the performer involved. For Little Big Man Smith made 12 appliances which, linked together, covered Hoffman's head, a process which took five hours a day to apply. Nevertheless, when necessary Smith was able to adapt to the performer's demands: when Marlon Brando preferred not to undergo extensive daily makeup preparations for The Godfather , Smith used his university training in dentistry, implanting a dental plumper which pushed out the skin at the jowls. Many of Smith's most ingenious effects evolved from his extensive knowledge of his materials: for the "HELP ME" which appeared like welts on Linda Blair's stomach in The Exorcist , Smith painted the words on her latex bodysuit with a cleaning fluid which puffed up through a chemical reaction.
His work in makeup also involved the invention of other visual effects. While abhorring excessive violence, he cleverly invented several horrifying effects for 1970s cinema, notably the realistic depiction of bullet hits: in a 1982 interview with the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner , Smith explained the effect achieved for Sterling Hayden's assassination in The Godfather : "I made a precise hole by putting a thin metal disk on Sterling Hayden's forehead to protect it; sticking a little explosive squib on the disk; running the wires back through his hair; applying an entire foam-rubber forehead over the disk, leaving an unglued pocket around the squib; injecting 'blood' into the pocket. When the squib was detonated, it blew a hole in the skin—and the 'blood' came leaking out."
While inspiring a new generation of makeup artists—among his protégés the Oscar-winner Rick Baker—Smith remained low-key, working out of his studio in Larchmont, New York. Among his other accomplishments: Monster Makeup and Horror Makeup Kits , mass-marketed in 1976. Having indulged in horror fantasies as a college student by terrorizing Yale students with various incarnations, he thus made available the tools of such fantasies to a new generation of would-be makeup artists.