“When you are doing your job right, people don’t notice it,” said event communications director Rick Markovitz.
And so can be said for many crafts in cinema, makeup being foremost among them. Though they are often listed in a film’s end credits, makeup and hair styling artists can be counted as integrally essential aspects of a film’s crew on par with cinematographers, editors and production designers. Too often, it must be said, they are overlooked, due to Markovitz’ accurate explanation. But this branch of film artistry is crucial to a film’s success on every level.
On Nov. 3 at the historic Max Factor Building on Highland Avenue just south of Hollywood Boulevard in downtown Hollywood, Calif., many of the top artists and stars in the Make-up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, IATSE Local 706, gathered to celebrate their union’s 75th anniversary. In addition to president Sue Cabral-Ebert, who presided over the event, members of the legendary Westmore family, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences governor Leonard Engelman, makeup union business representative Tommy Cole, and dozens of others joined the festivities. The art deco building, which opened in 1935, was a wholly appropriate venue for the celebration as Local 706 began in November of 1937. Now boasting 1,700 members, the union staffs makeup artists and hair stylists who work on everything from screen beauties to full-bodied monsters and everything in between.
The Westmore Family, whose patriarch George came from England to virtually invent the concept of the studio makeup department, boasted department heads at most of the major studios from the 1930s through the 1950s. Among George’s many famous sons, Perc and Ern Westmore got their starts in the Max Factor Building. Third generation Westmore, Michael, now retired, has passed the torch to his children, one of whom, McKenzie, served as mistress of ceremonies on Nov. 3. McKenzie, who is also an accomplished actress, hosts TV’s Face-Off, a SyFy series hit, which pits makeup hopefuls against each other in a reality show format. “It is a special honor for me to be here because my hero is here tonight, makeup artist extraordinaire and my father Mike Westmore,” she said, warmly.
Reiterating others’ sentiments, Michael Westmore, who led the Star Trek makeup department for 20 years, reflected on how his association with the union has changed his life. “Local 706 has always been in my life,” he said. “The Westmore family has been members since its inception, and myself since 1961. Without Local 706’s watchful eyes over working conditions and wages, the Hollywood motion picture industry might well have become an 1800s’ industrial factory. The presence of Local 706 has allowed the craftspeople of makeup and hair styling to live decently, create and be compensated for a day’s work well done.”
Hosting the event in her venue, Donelle Dadigan is the founder and president of the Hollywood Museum. “I am thrilled to know that the local is interested in education and preservation of its history,” she said. “In the 1930s and 1940s, our movie stars walked in looking like us and they walked out looking like silver-screen gods and goddesses. They had to rely on the genius of makeup pioneer Max Factor.”
Among Factor’s contributions were the creation of color-themed rooms for realizing particular hair and makeup color combinations for the then nascent three-strip Technicolor process.
One of the foremost guest speakers, Matthew Loeb, the international president of IATSE, spoke of his support of the makeup artists’ and hair stylists’ union. “This is a great celebration of a great union of supremely talented people,” he said. “You make the beautiful more beautiful, make the beautiful ugly and do things that are truly extraordinary – you create the magic of the personalities and stars that people come to see. What you do is as important as any craft out there.”
Tom Davis and Mike Miller, IATSE international vice-presidents were also on hand.
Wendy Greuel, city comptroller and Los Angeles mayoral hopeful, told the crowd how valuable Hollywood artisans are to the local economy. “New York should never let Wall Street leave, and Los Angeles should never let Hollywood leave,” she said.
Cabral-Ebert was highly praised for being a staunch advocate for Local 706 and the fortunes of its members. “We are here as one body tonight to celebrate tonight,” she said. “This is our original home. We were chartered right here in 1937.”
“75, that’s a lot of years – we should be very proud,” Cole said. “We are still known as the best artisans in the world. Generations from now, we will still be known as the best of the best.”
Dianne Feinstein and L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were not in attendance, but sent in written proclamations which congratulated the union and its brethren.
In closing, a Marilyn Monroe impersonator sang “Happy Birthday” to the union and its supporters, a nod to these artists’ ability to alter virtually any person’s appearance, changing them into any other possible likeness, limited only by that artist’s fertile imagination.