April 15, 2010

Dick Smith's Frankenstein

For first generation Monster Kids in 1965, Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook was the holy grail. There had never been anything like it before. Here, incredibly, was a step-by-step guide on how to turn yourself into a monster, written in simple language, easily understood, and published in an inexpensive magazine format by Famous Monsters!

I sent away for the book and would spend the next year or two experimenting with monster makeup. I hunted down the suggested ingredients, esoteric stuff like spirit gum, collodion and thick, smelly liquid latex.

Soon, I could lace my arms with disturbingly realistic scars and give myself a bubbly burned face using corn syrup and breadcrumbs, adding red and blue strings for veins. I could arthritically deform my knuckles using glue and cotton matted down and shaped with acrylic paint. I even made a bald-head skullcap, painting liquid latex on a balloon, and worn to hilarious effect.

Smith’s book described a number of makeups, from an easy Weird-Oh character and a painted on split-skull face to more elaborate jobs, stepping up the difficulty level as he went on.

I never attempted the complex werewolf or the book’s pièce de résistance, Smith’s New Frankenstein Monster, which took its cue from Mary Shelley’s description, “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath.

I can’t imagine how any kid could achieve this one without infinite patience, helping hands, and uncommon talent. The full-head job required hammering out a metal skullcap, carefully building up facial muscles with cotton and mortician’s wax (an anatomical diagram of facial muscles and arteries was provided), and covering everything with a transparent gelatin skin. The finished effect must have been stunning. Smith admitted that it did not photograph well, writing “the weird transparency of the skin is more apparent to the eyes than to the camera, but it was most effective.” The whole thing would theoretically peel away easily, though Smith suggested using baby shampoo to clean the red stains off your face!

Dick Smith’s book is symbolic of his generosity and his eagerness to share his knowledge, an avowed reaction to the wall of silence he encountered as a fledgling makeup artist in the late Forties. Hollywood makeup men wouldn’t share their secrets. “None of them would give you the time of day,” Smith said. Throughout his life, Smith was kind to fellow artists, most notably in his mentorship of Rick Baker, who was guided and encouraged by Smith when still a teenager.

Amazingly, when Dick Smith wrote his Handbook in 1965, his best work was still ahead. Smith would go on to create the latex appliance methods still in use today. He introduced the use of bladders for breathing effects, spurting blood, and the crawling skin transformations seen in Altered States (1980). He created the ultimate “old man” makeup, still a reference, for Dustin Hoffman’s Big Little Man, a design also used on vampire Barnabas Collins in House of Dark Shadows, both made in 1966. Smith designed the gruesomely realistic effects of violence in Coppola’s Godfather pictures, Scorcese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and, in what is perhaps his masterpiece, he created the astounding makeup effects on display in The Exorcist (1973).

Dick Smith’s Do-It-Yourself Monster Makeup Handbook, in both its original Warren magazine format and an updated book edition from 1985, is an expensive collector’s item today. Still available is a 40-minute demonstration video, Monster Makeup Hosted by Dick Smith, directed by John Russo.

Scans from the original Warren edition are on view over at Prof. Grewbeard’s delectable Magic Carpet Burn blog. Here’s The New Frankenstein Monster. Click and scroll around to see the rest of the mag.

Dick Smith’s website.

Read the excellent Cinefex interview (linked here) with Dick Smith, followed by a detailed outline of his career.

Still online, an abandoned blog, Max and Courtney Make Monsters, attempted to recreate every makeup described in Smith’s Do-It-Yourself book.

Dick Smith’s makeup for TV’s Arsenic and Old Lace.


Michael Jones said...

Fascinating! When I read your comment along the lines of "what child would have the patience to complete this?" Rick Baker sprung to mind. Sure enough, he turned out to be his apprentice.
Excellent writeup as always.

prof. grewbeard said...

The Famous Monsters Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook is posted in it's entirety starting here-


Rick said...

Still have my ancient copy on the shelf somewhere. I never had the materials (no money), the patience (required!) or the artistic ability (helpful) to accomplish much of anything. I did a few simple scars, but nothing more. Loved looking at the pictures though. Thanks for the memories.

Pierre Fournier said...

Rick: Still have my copy, and the envelope it came in.

Prof: Excellent! I added a link to the post. Thanks.

Sean Andress said...

Dick Smith was amazing!!! Thanks for posting this.

prof. grewbeard said...

thank you. anything to contribute to one of the best blogs ever!

Living Dead Girl Nicole said...

Awesome post!! The very first photo actually inspired my wedding invitations ;)