The legendary make-up of Dick Smith

Along with Oprah Winfrey and James Earl Jones, legendary make-up artist Dick Smith is slated to receive an honorary Academy Award, and it’s frankly long overdue. 

If you’re not familiar with Smith’s work, how about The Godfather, The Exorcist, Little Big Man, Taxi Driver, and Scanners, just to name a few. Smith is the make-up artists’s make-up artist, and he’s mentored and trained the best in the trade today.

As Tom Savini, the make-up master of the original Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th told Fangoria, 

”Everything improved for me when I first called Dick Smith and could learn from him.”

He adds, “Dick Smith is the greatest living make-up artist on the planet… He invented all the techniques that every make-up artist uses today. They might improve on it, they might make it better, but it all begins with his techniques.”

Make-up genius Rick Baker was Smith’s assistant on The Exorcist when he was a wee lad starting out, and Smith was free with his techniques and advice. In fact, anyone who wanted to learn how Smith did an effect could write to him, and he would personally send you the instructions so you could do it yourself.

As Baker recalled to writer John Russo, the first time he made the pilgrimage to Smith’s home, Smith gave him a pad and said, “I’m gonna tell you a lot of things and I don’t want you to forget them.” By the end of the day, Baker had pages and pages of notes and instructions that Smith gladly shared with him.

Where a lot of avenues in Hollywood are closed, make-up artists have a long tradition of helping out the new kids on the block, and this began with Smith’s mentoring. 

”Because I wanted to be Dick Smith when I grew up, I wanted to do the same thing,” Rick Baker says. “Because he gave so much, I wanted to give back.”

Smith himself says, “I was proud enough of my accomplishments that I felt, ‘I don’t have to hide these things I’ve discovered. I’ll do fine. Even if everybody else has these so-called secrets, it won’t hurt me in the least.’ I just started the practice of saying, ‘Hell, I’m always going to find something better.’ So that kind of pride is also what has lead me to be free with information.

“I’ve always had, by my nature, a desire to help people,” Smith continues. “I once considered being a missionary but felt I couldn’t hack it! But I’ve consoled myself by saying, ‘Okay, I’m not noble enough to give up my life and devote it all to helping poor people, but I can be a good friend to people.’ My extended family is make-up artists all over the world. I get back more than I give.”