Makeup has a long theatrical history. The early film industry naturally looked to traditional stage techniques, but these proved inadequate almost immediately. One of makeup's first problems was with celluloid. Early filmmakers used orthochromatic film stock, which had a limited color-range sensitivity. It reacted to red pigmentation, darkening white skin and nullifying solid reds. To counter the effect, Caucasian actors wore heavy pink greasepaint (Stein's #2) as well as black eyeliner and dark red lipstick (which, if applied too lightly, appeared white on screen), but these masklike cosmetics smeared as actors sweated under the intense lights. Furthermore, until the mid-teens, actors applied their own makeup and their image was rarely uniform from scene to scene. As the close-up became more common, makeup focused on the face, which had to be understood from a hugely magnified perspective, making refinements essential. In the pursuit of these radical changes, two names stand out as Hollywood's progenitor artists: Max Factor (1877–1938) and George Westmore (1879–1931). Both started as wigmakers and both recognized that the crucial difference between stage and screen was a lightness of touch. Both invented enduring cosmetics and makeup tricks for cinema and each, at times, took credit for the same invention (such as false eyelashes).
Factor (originally Firestein), a Russian émigré with a background in barbering, arrived in the United States in 1904 and moved to Los Angeles in 1908, where he set up a perfume, hair care, and cosmetics business catering to theatrical needs. He also distributed well-known greasepaints, which were too thick for screen use and photographed badly. By 1910, Factor had begun to divide the theatrical from the cinematic as he experimented to find appropriate cosmetics for film. His Greasepaint was the first makeup used in a screen test, for Cleopatra (1912), and by 1914 Factor had invented a twelve-toned cream version, which applied thinly, allowed for individual skin subtleties, and conformed more comfortably with celluloid. In the early 1920s panchromatic film began to replace orthochromatic, causing fewer color flaws, and in 1928 Factor completed work on Panchromatic MakeUp, which had a variety of hues. In 1937, the year before he died, he dealt with the new Technicolor problems by adapting theatrical "pancake" into a water-soluble powder, applicable with a sponge, excellent for film's and, eventually, television's needs. It photographed very well, eliminating the shine induced by Technicolor lighting, and its basic translucence imparted a delicate look. Known as Pancake makeup, it was first used in Vogues of 1938 (1937) and Goldwyn's Follies (1938), quickly becoming not only the film industry norm but a public sensation. Once movie stars, delighting in its lightness, began to wear it offscreen, Pancake became de rigueur for fashion-conscious women. After Factor's death, his empire continued to set standards and still covers cinema's cosmetic needs, from fingernails to toupees.
The English wigmaker George Westmore, for whom the Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild's George Westmore Lifetime Achievement Award is named, founded the first (and tiny) film makeup department, at Selig Studio in 1917. He also worked at Triangle but soon was freelancing across the major studios. Like Factor, he understood that cosmetic and hair needs were personal and would make up stars such as Mary Pickford (whom he relieved of having to curl her famous hair daily by making false ringlets) or the Talmadge sisters in their homes before they left for work in the morning.
He fathered three legendary and scandalous generations of movie makeup artists, beginning with his six sons—Monte (1902–1940), Perc (1904–1970), Ern (1904–1967), Wally (1906–1973), Bud (1918–1973), and Frank (1923–1985)—who soon eclipsed him in Hollywood. By 1926, Monte, Perc, Ern, and Bud had penetrated the industry to become the chief makeup artists at four major studios, and all continued to break ground in new beauty and horror illusions until the end of their careers. In 1921, after dishwashing at Famous Players-Lasky, Monte became Rudolph Valentino's sole makeup artist. (The actor had been doing his own.) When Valentino died in 1926, Monte went to Selznick International where, thirteen years later, he worked himself to death with the enormous makeup demands for Gone With the Wind (1939). In 1923 Perc established a blazing career at First National-Warner Bros. and, over twenty-seven years, initiated beauty trends and disguises including, in 1939, the faces of Charles Laughton's grotesque Hunchback of Notre Dame (for RKO) and Bette Davis's eyebrowless, almost bald, whitefaced Queen Elizabeth. In the early 1920s he blended Stein Pink greasepaint with eye shadow, preceding Factor's Panchromatic. Ern, at RKO from 1929 to 1931 and then at Fox from 1935, was adept at finding the right look for stars of the 1930s. Wally headed Paramount makeup from 1926, where he created, among others, Frederic March's gruesome transformation in Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (1931). Frank followed him there. Bud led Universal's makeup department for twenty-three years, specializing in rubber prosthetics and body suits such as the one used in Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Together they built the House of Westmore salon, which served stars and public alike. Later generations have continued the name, including Bud's sons, Michael and Marvin Westmore, who began in television and have excelled in unusual makeup, such as in Blade Runner (1982).
MGM was the only studio that the Westmores did not rule. Cecil Holland (1887–1973) became its first makeup head in 1925 and remained there until the 1950s. Originally an English actor known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces" before Lon Chaney (1883–1930) inherited the title, his makeup abilities were pioneering on films such as Grand Hotel (1932) and The Good Earth (1937). Jack Dawn (1892–1961), who created makeup for The Wizard of Oz (1939), ran the department from the 1940s, by which time it was so huge that over a thousand actors could be made up in one hour. William