Joe Blasco is a name that may be unfamiliar to most Make-up buffs, but Blasco is no stranger to the business. In fact, he is one of the pioneers of today’s state-of-the-art prosthetic Make-ups, having been taught the processes by the man who invented the formula for the rubber that is used for this technique, George Bau. Blasco was also probably the first to employ air-bladders to achieve the unique effect of bulging skin in David Cronenberg’s They Came From Within.
He became interested the field of Make-up at the age of seven, when his aunt Nancy took him to the drugstore and bought him a copy of (what else?) Famous Monsters of Filmland. “I was fascinated from the start,” says Blasco. “The minute I saw Jack Pierce putting the finishing touches to Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, I knew that was what I wanted to do.” When Halloween rolled around, his aunt (ever the instigator) bought him a boy Make-up kit. “Talk about ‘making a monster’,” laughs Joe, “I made up the entire neighborhood, not to mention my family.”
By the fourth grade, Blasco had found Richard Corson’s book, Stage Make-up, in the school library and kept renewing it until he graduated on to high school. “I didn’t know that there were places one could go to actually buy books like that, ” Blasco recounts. “I mean, I’m the kid from a small farm town (North Irwin, Pennsylvania, 30 miles outside of Pittsburgh) and it never occurred to me at all. When graduation time began to come near, I got kind of panicky because I thought all this information would be lost to me since I wouldn’t be able to use that library again.” To avoid losing his source, Blasco brought the book to his geography class every day for the last week or so of school, and proceeded to copy—word for word—the entire book of stage Make-up . “The Make-up book fit neatly inside my geography book, so my teacher couldn’t see what I was doing. She thought I was doing homework!” Blasco still has the sheets of paper filled with Corson’s words.
When Blasco finally got to high school, he met a friend, Frank Bolkovac, who wanted to be a cameraman. Together they made their own 8 mm films. One of the little movies, called “Vandar,” a horror yarn, was an hour long and had sound. Blasco wrote, directed, did the Make-up , and acted in it, and Bolkovac shot it. Joe, being the go- getter type, arranged to have it shown to the student body, and sold tickets to it with all proceeds going to the school’s scholarship fund. There was even a write-up in the local news paper about it to generate publicity.
As it turned out, a local TV director had come by to see Blasco’s movie—and liked it. He invited Blasco to come to the studio to be interviewed on a talk show. Blasco in turn invited the principal of his school, and an administrator from the school district to come with him. The whole town was impressed with Blasco’s enterprise and talent; another TV director in Pittsburgh was impressed enough to have Blasco come on his show, Chiller, a weekly horror/science fiction movie showcase, and do a Make-up every week, showing how each was done.
By this time, Blasco’s talent was quite obvious, and it won him a scholarship to cosmetology school. After graduating in 1965 he got a job with Max Factor, who sent him to New York, and then, at last, to Hollywood. Says Blasco, “When I got there, they wanted to send me around the country as a representative of the company, but I didn’t want to leave Hollywood. My body began to rebel against the pressures I was under, and I broke out into the worst case of acne I’d ever had in my life. Needless to say, Max Factor decided I wasn’t exactly the best representative for cosmetics, so they didn’t send me. ”
Blasco quit his job with Factor and put his last hundred dollars down on an apartment. “I had given the landlord the first and last month’s rent,” says Blasco, “so that meant I only had two months to find a job, or go back to Pennsylvania.” Blasco saw an ad in the paper for a job as a phone solicitor, and decided that was an opportunity to earn some money and to get in touch with those folks that he really wanted to work for: movie studios and Make-up people. “I spent most of my time calling the studios and setting up appointments to meet people the whole six months I was there.” He was supposed to be trying to sell magazines. However, he did manage to meet and talk to the folks he wanted to, and established some very good contacts. When he was through with the phones—he hadn’t sold any magazines—he decided to get a job that would pay better, and so became a copy-boy for the Los Angeles Times.
Even then he would spend all of his spare time at ABC Television studios watching Rudy Horvatich doing Make-up for the shows that were taped there. Pretty soon Blasco had quite a bit of knowledge stored up from his own background and what he had seen others doing, and he practiced a lot on his friends. The older Make-up artists befriended him and taught him many useful tricks, seeing that he already knew what he was doing and where he was headed. Says Blasco, “I wasn’t even old enough to get into the Make-up union. You had to be 21, and I was only 19.” Blasco decided to try teaching his craft when he saw an ad in the paper for a Make-up school. “They only taught beauty Make-up ,” says Joe, “so I got this idea that I would put together a course in film and TV Make-up , and try to sell them on it and get them to let me teach it.”
The idea paid off, and Blasco had his first crack at teaching Make-up and Make-up effects. Blasco saw this as an opportunity to learn for himself, as well, by inviting leading film industry Make-up artists, such as Ben Nye and George Bau, to give demonstrations and lectures on their techniques. “I kept inviting Ben Nye over, and pretty soon he invited me to his lab, and after that I began spending more time in his lab than in my own; and without pay.” Blasco finally decided to quit the Make-up school and go to work for Nye in his lab (for a salary, this time), and learn everything Nye had to teach. George Bau also taught Blasco what he knew. “It was like getting the information right from the horse’s mouth,” laughs Blasco. Through his friendships, Blasco established valuable contacts with industry people, and began his career at CBS television doing Make-up on The Red Skelton Show and The Jim Nabors Show. “I got an offer from NABET [the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians] to go on the road with comedian John Byner’s traveling variety show for two years. It paid $150 more per week than my job at CBS, so I took it.” Blasco learned a tremendous amount while on the road with the show. “Mostly how to improvise-which is extremely important in this business-and speed.”
When he returned from doing Byner’s Make-ups, he started doing commercials with Alan Waite Productions. “Frankenstein’s monsters and werewolves, ” says Blasco, are what he mainly did. It was during this time that Blasco got work on his first big feature, Touch of Melissa (later re-titled Touch of Satan). Says Blasco, “I did a ripped up neck and the old age prosthetic Make-up -the old woman in the movie.” Blasco also did a disintegration scene that, unfortunately, didn’t make it into the picture. “I made seven skulls that were animated so they could do dissolves-having one skull fade into another, so it looked as if the mouth was moving. It was Raiders of the Lost Ark 12 years ahead of its time . . . But they were afraid they’d lose their G rating if they left it in.”
Ilse, She-Wolf of the S S.
Easily one of the most repulsive films ever made, offered plenty of challenge for Blasco, as he was called upon to inflict torture scars, radiation-induced cancers, and maggot-ridden infected wounds on Ilse's many victims.
Blasco’s next picture was 1972’s notorious Ilsa (She-wolf of the S.S.). Joe was responsible for the design and application of some effective radiation burns and skin cancer wounds on the faces and arms of some of the actors. He used only the technique of “construction” - that is, he used no prosthetic appliances; only cotton, collodion, liquid latex rubber, and the coloring. Each Make-up was built up on the actor’s face-the construction technique can save time when you can’t spend the extra days it takes to go through the process of moldmaking and sculpting in the lab. The picture also featured some convincing gunshot wound Make-ups by Blasco. In 1973, Blasco designed and manufactured the monster for Dario Productions’ Track of the Moon Beast, a film that was also one of Rick Baker’s first jobs. “I had had a serious accident,” explains Blasco. “I ripped out my thumbnail with an electric sander, and I still hadn’t sculpted the hands of the monster yet, so I called up John Chambers and told him my problem and asked if he knew any good sculptors. He told me that there was this new guy in town who was a pretty good sculptor, and good at making molds too; so I gave him a call.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
During the time that Blasco was doing Make-up effects for features, he was also working on and off at ABC television, and running his own school for film and TV Make-up out of his apartment (he had seen how successful his first teaching venture had been, and decided to try again, this time for him self). His classes were fairly small, but big enough to be crowded. Eleven people would cram into his two bedroom studio apartment. One of his students, David Dittmar, would later assist Blasco on his next feature, a film called The Parasite Murders which was also shot in 1973.
The Parasite Murders was a Canadian film, director David Cronenberg’s first commercial feature. The picture went through a few name changes before it was finally released in the U.S. as They Came From Within. For the movie, Blasco was called upon to create some appropriately disgusting Make-up effects, one of which was an air-bladder effect; something that, up to that time, had never been done. Blasco had to create the effect of parasites moving around inside actor Alan Migicovsky. To do this, he took a cast of the actor’s chest and stomach, and made from it a thin rubber appliance. He then meticulously laid hair upon it to match the pattern of Migicovsky’s own hair. The next step was to tape the air-bladders (rubber condoms connected to plastic tubing) to the actor, running the tubing down each leg of his pajamas and out to hand pumps (not the high-tech compressed air pumps they have now, but empty enema syringes and hair-tint squeeze bottles). The appliance was tightly laced on over the bladders so that it conformed with Migicovsky’s own musculature. When the air was pumped into the condoms by the technicians (Blasco and Dittmar with their squeeze bottles), they would expand perfectly, causing lumps to seemingly crawl across the actor’s stomach-as if something were trying to burrow out.
About the time They Came From Within was released in the U.S., Blasco’s school was beginning to take shape, and he had made enough money at it (and his other projects) to move the whole thing into its own building on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. A year or so after that, a man Blasco knew, by the name of Nick Vanoff, bought the Sunset-Gower Studios, a large group of buildings used as soundstages and offices not far from Blasco’s school. Blasco asked Vanoff if he could open up his school in the studios so that it would be more convenient for the people who would be needing Make-up artists. Vanoff agreed, and the Joe Blasco Make-up Center School was born. The school has always been successful, and Blasco has always had other jobs as well. In 1976, he did the effects for David Cronenberg’s Rabid, which was one of his last major special Make-up effects pictures. Blasco designed the retractable syringe-like organ that pops out of Marilyn Chambers’ armpit. Because he was in Los Angeles, and the actress was already in Canada, Blasco took the casts of the armpit and chest from one of his female students; and made the appliances in his lab in L.A. He sent them to Canada.
The film was quite successful and made a lot of money; but it did relatively nothing for Blasco’s career, and he became discouraged about his movie making future. He was spending all kinds of time on low-budget pictures like Johnny Firecloud and Ruby and was getting less money, and even less recognition for what many in the Make-up field consider outstanding work. Blasco then decided to stop pursuing movie work and concentrate in stead on his work in television. He had been the Make-up effects specialist at ABC television for 10 years, doing prosthetics and a variety of other types of effects for soap operas and specials.
Joe was head Make-up artist for such programs as Barney Miller, and has be come the personal Make-up artist to dozens of actors and TV personalities, including Carol Burnett, Orson Welles, and Rona Barrett. Recently, Blasco was responsible for the werewolf Make-up on the short-lived TV series The Darkroom, and he did a couple of Frankenstein monster Make-ups for Tropicana orange juice and Kellogg’s. Blasco also did Orson Welles’ prosthetic age Make-up in the recent Pia Zadora film Butterfly. Today, Blasco splits his time between being “make-up artist to the stars” and running the world’s only complete film and television Make-up schools. However, producers are slowly but surely beginning to realize (once again) just what Blasco is capable of, and are approaching him with new projects all the time. His students, some of which have gone on to excellent careers of their own in Make-up and Make-up effects, would like to thank Blasco’s Aunt Nancy for having bought him that copy of Famous Monsters.
There is question frequently asked by hundreds of readers of like FANGORIA that, up until recently, was difficult to positively. The question, “Where can a person go to learn and Make-up effects?” now has a relatively simple answer. The Joe Blasco Make-up Center School for Professional Make-up Artistry is the best bet by far. Blasco’s Make-up Centers are located in Hollywood, California (right in the thick of the entertainment industry), and is world renowned for its professionalism, and in Orlando, Florida.
Blasco’s school covers everything in precise detail; even down to how to stay healthy on a hectic shooting schedule, and under adverse conditions. “I put together a school that I would have wanted to go to,” says Blasco. “Though there are schools for beauty Make-up , and some colleges teach theatrical Make-up , there has never been a place where you could learn the techniques for all the media - stage, TV, film, and still photography.” Blasco’s school does just that, and is the only institution in the world of its kind. There are several courses of study to choose from at the Make-up Centers. You can take a specific type of class, such as prosthetics, or character Make-up; or you can take them all together in the complete 11 week Professional Make-up Artistry course, which is a rigorous curriculum of all types of Make-up . Says Blasco, “Students who have completed this course, when they leave here, are not just specialists in only prosthetics, or just beauty make up. They are proficient in all phases of Make-up .” All of the courses, whether taken separately or together, are intense, and require a tremendous amount of time from the student. “There’s another alternative to going to a school to learn Make-up ,” says Blasco. “You can badger a professional Make-up artist half to death to get him to let you watch him-and he may let you-just to pacify you. You’ll probably learn a good lot that way, but you’ll also probably only learn that one artist’s style. At the Make-up Centers, the students are exposed to anywhere from 20 to 25 different Make-up artists. They get to see everything that’s available in state-of-the-art techniques. There are no secrets. The students are able to pick and choose their influences, so to speak. And,” Blasco adds, “they don’t have to spend precious time tracking down and coaxing a Make-up artist to teach them.” The list of Make-up artists on the staff at the Make-up Center School includes Harry Thomas (who worked with Jack Pierce on the famous horror pictures of the 40’s and 50’s), Matthew Mungle and Ron Figuly (prosthetics specialists), and Larry Abbott, who is Steve Allen’s personal Make-up artist, and who was the head Make-up artist on the PBS series Meeting of the Minds. Visiting artists include Academy Award winner John Chambers, and Charles Schram; who worked on The Wizard of Oz.
A typical 11 week course, that is, the Complete Professional Make-up Course, consists of classes in seven different areas; the first being beauty Make-up , which covers straight, glamour, and high fashion Make-up for film, TV, stage, and still photography. Next is old age Make-up , covering the different methods of achieving the aged look (other than with prosthetics—that comes later), using paint and powder, construction and stipple. The third class is on bald cap techniques, covering the manufacture, application, and proper removal of the bald cap. Says Blasco, “There are definite wrong and right ways to remove Make-up . It’s just as much an art as applying it.” The fourth class is hair work. The student is instructed in how to make beards and other facial hair; wigs, and how to improvise with different materials.
Class five is the character Make-up segments, where the student learns how to put everything he’s learned in the first four classes to good use. Covered in this class are 50 phases of character-oriented techniques including bullet holes, burns (of all degrees), cuts and scratches, oriental features, drag Make-up , and much, much more. The sixth class is monster Make-up . In this class, the student learns how to recreate the classic monsters of the past—e.g. Quasimodo, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dracula; and creates his own disgusting creatures as well. He is limited in this only by his aptitude and imagination. The last portion of the course is prosthetics. There are two classes, basic and advanced (the latter is optional). In the basic class, students are taught the rudiments of sculpting, casting, and moldmaking, and all about the materials used. In the advanced class, skills taught include the manufacture of teeth with dental acrylics, the mechanical capabilities of the prosthetic appliance (which include bladder effects), and faster and better methods in all areas of prosthetic Make-up. Throughout the 11 week course are lectures and seminars on subjects that range from the history of Make-up effects, to script breakdown for Make-up artists. There is also a required class in human anatomy, exercise, and nutrition, which gives the student guidelines on how to remain a healthy make-up artist. “This is a demanding job,” explains Blasco, “and if you’re not healthy, you won’t be hired. If you don’t stay healthy, you won’t stay hired.”
The purpose of the workshop is to let the student experience the other technical aspects of film and TV production, such as lighting techniques, blocking, and camerawork, so that once in the world of the professional, he will be properly prepared and able to handle himself on such a level. Also, the workshop enables the student to see his own work on video tape, in order that he will better understand what makes his creations look best.
Aside from being a school, the Joe Blasco Make-up Center is an independent Make-up service for film, TV, stage, and still photography. Available to this community is a variety of services, from being an outlet for Blasco’s own line of professional cosmetics, to providing all forms of Make-up design and execution (done at the Center, or on location). Because producers often turn to the Make-up Centers for help, there is quite a lot of exposure for the talented students of the school; many times the students find employment in their field through the Make-up Center. Matthew Mungle, a former student of Blasco’s, who is now an instructor at the Center, and who has a growing list of credits in TV and feature films, is one such case. Says Mungle, “Probably 90 per cent of the work I’ve gotten has been from Joe’s recommendations. Joe had me assist him in Las Vegas on Orson Welles’ Make-up for the movie Butterfly, and he recommended me to Jeff Obrow Productions to do the effects Make-up on their movie Pranks.” Mungle will also be tackling Obrow’s next feature as well.
An important point stressed by Blasco, is that new Make-up artists can not afford to experiment on the job. It not only costs time and money, but reputation as well. “If you’re good at what you do,” says Blasco, “word gets around; but if you are costing a company money and time trying to figure out how to do things you should already know how to do, word gets around twice as fast. That can cost you future employment At the schools, students get all their major experimentation out of the way, so they don’t have to do it on the job. When they get out into the world of the professional, they will have the basics down, and they will be able to try new things with that knowledge to draw from.” Prosthetics student Mary-Michael George agrees: “They make you feel so comfortable with the materials, that you are able to feel confident about going out and using what you know, and applying it to new things.” Says Blasco, “Not everyone is going to be successful at Make-up and Make-up effects, but those who have the talent, personality and drive it takes, will survive. They are the ones who will get the jobs.”
Blasco’s school is certainly unique among schools of this type (of which there are not many). It’s appeal is its professionalism, and people come from all over the world to partake of that professionalism. Student Sandra Aznar is from France. She wanted to go to the best Make-up school in the world, so she came to the Joe Blasco Make-up Center. “What I like about this school, says Aznar, ‘ is that there are so many people with their own problems’, and their own temperament, yet each person is handled as an individual.” Everyone is free to move the way they want, but always with the one direction in mind, to be a professional.
Please direct all correspondence about the Joe Blasco Make-up Center Schools to Joe Blasco Make-up Center West, Hollywood, California, (323) 467-4949 or Joe Blasco Make-up Center East, Orlando, Florida, (407) 363-1234.