Dick Smith

UPDATED 05/04/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/04/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

I was the first makeup artist hired by NBC. When I started in 1945, practically the whole RCA Building was radio, and my office space was the bottom drawer of assistant director Fred Coe's desk. Five years later I was a department head with 20 full-time makeup artists. TV had taken over the whole building. It was a tremendously exciting period because there were always great, live dramatic shows on Philco TV Playhouse or Goodyear TV Playhouse. I was with the network until 1959, and through that period we did one live drama after another.

We would do these incredible quick changes. I'll never forget the most extreme aging problem on a big production, Claire Bloom in Victoria Regina in 1957. We had to start with Claire as a very young girl before she becomes queen, and to do that we put a light brown wig with a topknot over her naturally dark hair. Our first change came at the end of the first act. Claire had to run from one end of the building to the other, where there was a different set—the second act picked up with her "fat and 40" and sitting at a little writing desk. We had three minutes and 20 seconds to age her. I had a man with a stopwatch because we were so frantic not to get caught on-camera that we would go too fast, duck away and lose 30 seconds valuable time. And the floor manager was so panicky he'd always wave you out too soon. We'd ignore him.

On the night of the show Claire ran over, and some wardrobe people ripped panels off her dress to change the neckline. Our hairstylist moved the bun to the nape of her neck to make her look older. My assistant is holding this latex facial part designed to give her a double chin and fill out her face. On cue I squirted liquid adhesive into the thing, and my assistant and I are standing on either side of Claire, who's sitting trembling at the writing desk, and we—ploop—put it on her. We take this greasepaint and sponge it over the edges of the latex to cover up the adhesive goo that's oozing out. And with infinite care my assistant hands me a rubber nose, because if he squeezes it, it's ruined. I plop it on and put makeup over it.

In the middle of the next act she runs to another set, and this time we have 80 seconds to get her to age 60. We can only add on, not take off, so the hairstylist puts a gray wig over the brown wig. It was a miracle of hair-styling because it didn't even look wiggy. The whole costume change consists of a rubber 'dowager's hump' sewn into a shawl to be thrown over her shoulders. Then I have 40 seconds for makeup. I have more latex "features" for lower lip, chin, bags and heavy eyelids. I blot out her lipstick and use a rubber stamp to print wrinkles on her forehead.

Finally we come to the Golden Jubilee scene. Another change was impossible. No time at all. I had suggested using a made-up double and having Claire do a voice-over, and I made an entire rubber mask, one of my first. The scene called for two Nubians in turbans to wheel her out onto a balcony, and the multitudes are cheering, and the play is supposed to wind up with a gorgeous close-up of her face. Fade out. The end. Comes time for the scene. The door opens. The Nubians push. They can't get her moving. It turns out her skirt was caught in the spokes of the wheelchair. Finally they shove her out and they get the close-up. It's great, but it's late. They roll the credits, but because of the delay the timing is all screwed up. The play goes off the air just before they get to the makeup credits. My God, we were heartbroken.

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