THE WESTMORES: Sculpting the Faces of the World

By Elkins, Merry | American Cinematographer, July 1984 | Go to article overview

THE WESTMORES: Sculpting the Faces of the World


Elkins, Merry, American Cinematographer


WHEN Paul Muni accepted his Academy Award for best actor in 1936, he departed from tradition and thanked only one man: "Perc Westmore did my makeup for Louis Pasteur," he said. "The first morning after he finished, I looked in the mirror and I didn't see myself. 1 saw Louis Pasteur.... Only then did I become Louis Pasteur.. .. Perc Westmore deserves as much credit as I for this award."

But Perc Westmore got no more credit. The Academy didn't give Awards for makeup. They didn't award the Oscar on an annual basis until 1982 when Rick Baker was honored for his work on American Werewolf in London. Only William Tuttle for The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao and John Chambers for the movie Planet of the Apes received makeup awards, and those were special considerations. Had it not been for the campaign waged by Perc's brother Frank to have makeup added to the roster of annual award categories, makeup artists might still be omitted from Price Waterhouse's regular accountings.

It's ironic that it took the Academy so long to pay this tribute, since the first studio makeup department was founded in 1917 by George Westmore, who began his career cutting Winston Churchill's hair, and later as a wigmaker, invented the hair-lace wig. Until then, makeup was bought by property masters and sold to the actors. But from 1917 on, George and his six sons helped to sculpt the faces of the world.

George created Mary Pickford's ringlets, which Shirley Temple and every other little girl in the U.S. emulated. Oldest brother Mont gave Rudolph Valentino his slicked-down hair and long sideburns, which became the standard look for men on five continents. Bette Davis wouldn't make a move without Perc Westmore, nor would Carole Lombard, who asked him to devise a way to make her small bust look fuller. His answer to her, which Louella Parsons divulged to the rest of the women in the country, was to run a thin line of dry rouge down between her breasts to make the cleavage seem deeper. Twenty-five years later, actresses such as Kirn Novak were still following this method.

Wally Westmore invented a prosthetic hand for Harold Lloyd, who lost his index finger and thumb of his right hand when a faulty explosive prop blew up in 1919. Lloyd had worn a glove, but in the film Professor Beware, he had to strip to his underwear, and the glove had to go, too.

Ern Westmore, along with his twin Perc, devised the seven basic face shapes which hair stylists, makeup artists, and cosmetics manufacturers still use as a guide today: The oval, round, oblong such as Katharine Hepburn's; square, like Carole Lombard's; triangle, inverted triangle, and diamond-shaped like Claudette Colbert's.

Bud Westmore created the iguanalike monster for the Creature From the Black Lagoon from liquid rubber, and glued hundreds of individual latex scales to the costume. When the movie was reviewed, Abe Weiler from the New York Times said the monster suit was the real star of the film.

The Westmore brothers branched out from their studio jobs in 1935 to open the House of Westmore, which became the eminent beauty salon for the stars and international royalty for over 30 years. Ronald Reagan was sent there by Warners when he first came to Hollywood. After a consultation with the brothers on his hairstyle, he overheard them saying, "What are we going to do with him? With his hair parted right down the middle like that, he looks like Joe E. Brown with a small mouth." Our President owes his current side part to this consultation at the House of Westmore.

Frank Westmore, the youngest of the clan and only living member, was barely a teenager when the House of Westmore opened. He began his career as an actor at the age of six months when Norma Talrnadge needed a baby to hold in the film secrets, on which Frank's father George was the makeup artist. At 13, Cecil B. DeMille offered Frank a seven-year contract, but his brothers, and not too politely, dissuaded him, and he decided to join the family and take up the art of makeup. …

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