Looking a bit like a character actor from Goodfellas, make-up maestro Al Fama has been in the IA family since the autumn of 1965. His first substantial gig was the Paul Newman-starring cold war classic Torn Curtain, where he worked under the watchful eye of makeup artist Bud Westmore, with Alfred Hitchcock at the helm. “Hitchcock wanted a natural looking make-up that didn’t appear obvious,” Fama recalled.
Recommended by Harry Merrit in 1967, Fama applied the shadow beards to Dustin Hoffman for the iconic Alpha Romeo driving scenes in The Graduate. “One night we went long shooting,” Fama said, “Dustin asked me to phone his mother, who was visiting and waiting for him to wrap, to let her know he would be late. Twenty years later on Hook,” Fama marveled, “Dustin still remembered me from that.”
Fama, self described as the king of the miniseries, began his path to Hollywood at age 14. Influenced by the Lon Chaney bio The Man of a Thousand Faces, starring James Cagney, the budding makeup artist created his own character study of the Hunchback of Notre Dame with improvised costume, wig, crepe wool facial hair, a bulging eye and a humpback. Fama’s Quasimodo was so convincing it scared his Uncle Raymond half out of the house. And true to those origins, throughout his forty-year-plus career, he continued to enjoy creating characters. “I really liked the facial stuff,” Fama said, “beards, mustaches, chin pieces, sideburns . . .”
Applying those skills to full advantage, Fama was thrice Emmy nominated for best makeup in a miniseries (George Washington, Mystic Warrior and V). He said his favorite director from those days was Buzz Kulik. “He was a nice guy who would listen to your ideas to make characters better.”
Mentored by makeup royalty Bud and Monty Westmore, Fama wound up working on one of Hollywood’s epic comedies of the 70s, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Aided by second Terry Miles, he did principal makeup on Cleavon Little, Harvey Korman, Gene Wilder, and Alex Karras, as well as countless character actors and stunt players.
Like many who worked in the “biz” during the 70s, Fama did his time on the Big Island powdering Jack Lord on Hawaii Five-O. After Five-O fizzled, he returned to glamour makeup and rapidly gained a reputation for his work with beautiful women. Face-tuning such femmes fatales as Angie Dickinson (Big Bad Moma and Police Woman) as well as big-hair-gal Linda Gray from Dallas, Fama did it all. “Angie was my favorite,” the retired pro said. “A real class act.”
The next two decades of Fama’s work consisted of one miniseries after another. From the challenges of a vast production like North and South (period make-up, wounds, aging, beards, and Liz Taylor), to the exhausting accuracy of the face paint on the Western epic The Mystic Warrior, Fama was a pro who did his work with style.
Retired since 2001, the facial fixer from Cleveland offered these words of advice to future generations of the 706 trade: “Learn the craft. Makeup is not all lip-gloss, eyeliner and back rubs.”
Asked about the special bond between actor and makeup artist, Fama answered simply, “It’s all about trust. What happens in the chair stays in the chair.”
Whether masking David Carradine’s prodigious tattoos or keeping a false beard on Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill, Fama is a craftsman who stood by his professional convictions: authentic-looking makeup, never overdone, done just right—especially if it scares you half out of the house.
Written by Jim Udel