by Lisa Randazzo
Beauty Store Business, August September 1998
Raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s, Joe Blasco's fascination with the entertainment industry was sparked by the monster movies of that time. He later apprenticed with Hollywood's legendary makeup artists, and went on to paint the industry's most glamorous faces, open training centers on both coasts and launch his own product line, Joe Blasco Cosmetics. Here he shares some colorful moments from his life as a Hollywood makeup artist.
You're known for your work in the movie industry. What sparked your interest in makeup, and when? Were you drawn toward makeup specifically, or the entertainment industry in general?
At first I was drawn toward the entertainment industry in general; I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I wasn't certain exactly which aspect of film making attracted me the most. When I watched a film or a television show I understood, even at a very young age, that the performers were following a script, that they were being directed, lighted and made up, and that there were camera people in the background. I knew incredible teamwork was responsible for creating what I was seeing, and that fascinated me.
In junior high school I focused mainly on lighting, directing, makeup and camera work. When I was about 13 or 14 years old, a neighborhood friend received an 8mm camera as a Christmas gift; over the next two years, all of the kids in the neighborhood proceeded to create films. Of course, being the entrepreneur of the bunch, I spearheaded the efforts: I wrote scripts, directed, did makeup, set up lights - even acted.
While I was doing the monster makeup for one of these films, I became fascinated with the process. And once I saw my handiwork on film, I set my sights strictly on the path of a makeup artist. And that's really how I got started.
Of course, I saw pictures of the makeup artists working inFamous Monsters of Film Land magazine; just about every makeup artist in my peer group was inspired by this publication, which was created and edited by a man named Forest J. Ackerman. And if it weren't for Forrie - we all lovingly call him Forrie - many of us would have never gotten the inspiration to go into the field of makeup.
Jack Pierce, who was the head of makeup for Universal Studios from the late '20s until 1947, also inspired me greatly. He was the makeup artist who created the original Frankenstein monster that was played by Boris Karloff, and I'm sure in one way or another he assisted Bela Lugosi in the makeup for Dracula. He did the original mummy, also played by Karloff, and the original wolfman, played by Lon Chaney Jr. When I was growing up these films played on TV quite a bit.
"New low-light film emulsions and television cameras required less intense lighting, which meant the makeup colors needed to look more natural."
What fundamental differences separate entertainment make-up from society makeup?
I suppose the primary difference is that in entertainment makeup there are technical requirements which must be satisfied. For instance, in makeup for the live stage, the facial features are accentuated enough to carry over the footlights and well into the house so that the people sitting in the audience are able to see the actors' features and facial expressions.
In television, the features have to be painted in such a way as to be photogenic under the lighting that's used, and able to reproduce well through television's electronic process. Your goal is to make up the face so that it's not distorted in any way by the electronic process-the lighting and the camera.
When you're dealing with makeup for film and television, or even still photography, you're dealing with a photographic process that translates the 3-dimensional form into a 2-dimensional format. So makeup must be applied in a manner that helps to create the illusion of a third dimension.
A more obvious difference between the two types of makeup ,would be that of character makeup, which is rarely used in society unless it's Halloween. But in motion pictures, makeup artists must be very adept at understanding highlighting and shading so that they can transform the face into various characters depicted in the script. If you're doing a monster in the script, of course, you need to have a knowledge of monster makeup. Very often you see a character in a film that progresses to a very old age, and the makeup artist would have to know how to apply highlights and shadows properly to effect that aging.
You also work with plastic surgeons. How did you get involved with this kind of work and what exactly does it entail?
At a wrap party back in the early '70s I met a well-known Beverly Hills plastic surgeon by the name of George Semel, who does reconstructive work. I explained that I was in the process of formulating my own makeup products, and that many of them could, I thought, be used for postoperative work: to conceal the redness, bruises and discoloration's that occur after plastic surgery, facial peeling, rhinoplasty and various other procedures. I sent him sample products to experiment with, and he told me which products he thought worked well in covering redness and bruises. I incorporated his recommendations into the products that I was making. Before you knew it, I ended up with a complete line of products specifically intended to cover bruises, redness, discoloration's and blemishes.
I also worked for three years as a makeup artist for the Humana hospital chain, lecturing at the hospitals' burn centers and demonstrating how my Dermaceal products could be used to effectively cover scars and surface discoloration's, such as birthmarks.
I still work with Dr. Semel occasionally, but right now I'm intensely involved with researching and developing the new products we'll be introducing this fall. We're coming out with 50 new lipsticks and approximately 30 new eyeshadows. We'll also be introducing several new types of products, including a highly pigmented makeup for liplining and a blemish cover for teenagers.
Are the formulations for medical makeup different from formulations for other types of makeup?
Joe Blasco Cosmetics formulations in general are different from some other cosmetics inasmuch as we don't use any animal byproducts or chemicals known to cause allergenic reaction. Most cosmetics that are in cream form are made up of approximately 10% to 15% pigment and 85% to 90/o wax and oil. The predominant component in our cream bases, on the other hand, is pigment. This enables the user to achieve good coverage with a very thin application. That characteristic alone makes it ideal for use as a medical makeup, but it also makes it ideal for any application-motion picture, television and every day.
The other unique characteristic of our product line is its wide range of flesh tones, which have been designed to duplicate the actual undertones of the different races of human skin. When you apply this makeup, it not only goes on thin and covers completely, but it also blends perfectly with the natural undertone and color of your skin. This helps prevent that tell tale line at your jawline.
What prompted you to manufacture your own makeup products?
Well, for approximately 20 years I worked as a makeup artist in the film and television industry as personal makeup artist for Carol Burnett, Rona Barrett, Olivia Newton John, Bette Midler, Charo, Lauren Bacall, Orson Wells and many other celebrities.
I was very lucky, actually, to work for eight years with Rona Barrett on her TV interview show doing makeup for many celebrities. Working with different people, I learned about the many varieties of skin tone and because each of these celebrities had a favorite makeup, I worked with many different products. Most of the makeups were much the same-very low in pigment and too orange, pink or yellow in color. Few colors really looked natural; you had to blend and mix a lot. I would end up creating colors that worked well for each of these people, and from mixing all of these colors and working with so many different consistencies and textures, I learned what made a good makeup.
And so I began experimenting, because I felt someone should change the products that were available to the professional makeup artist to make them more user-friendly. At about the same time, the lighting changed with the advent of fast film. The new low-light film emulsions and low-light television cameras didn't require the subject to be lighted so intensely, which meant the colors of the make-ups needed to be changed to be more natural in appearance. It took me about 15 years, really, to develop the process for my makeup line.
"In the past, the television and film processes bid almost any bad makeup application, but today, what you see is what you get. If you don't do it right, everybody knows it."
Do you update your line according to industry trends? How often?
We find that it's not usually necessary to update the line, as far as industry is concerned, more than once every five years. There are advances being made in the film and television processes, but once you get to a point where you've created a make-up that duplicates nature, where else do you go?
The only thing that changes are trends and styles: color palettes and the manner in which makeup is applied. For instance, do we apply eyeliner? Or not? Eyelashes? Lipliner? These are seasonal trends normally dictated by the cosmetic industry. We will try to invent new colors, which is somewhat difficult since there's really nothing new under the sun. Basically, we just keep reinventing or trying to make things better than they were; occasionally we make a mistake and end up with something really great!
How have technology and the evolution of the movie industry influenced makeup and makeup artistry?
You can't do heavy makeup anymore and get away with it. It takes quite a bit of skill to be able to apply corrective makeup that doesn't look heavy. In the past, the television and film processes hid almost any bad makeup application, but today, what you see is what you get. If you don't do it right, everybody knows it.
Before you began to manufacture your own line, which brand or brands did you use? Were you brand loyal?
Absolutely. I was an avid fan primarily of Max Factor first. In the late '60s I worked as the West Coast sales representative for a company called RCMA - the Research Council of Makeup Artists. The company was formed by an East Coast makeup artist named Vin Kehoe, who was actually the first, that I know of, to come along and try to improve upon the Max Factor formula. And I felt, at that time, that he was very successful.
Here's a funny story that no one knows: When I was working for the RCMA company as a West Coast rep I called William Tuttle, who was the head of makeup at MGM for 30 or 40 years.
I introduced myself and told him I had this wonderful line of makeup to show him. He said, "Oh sure, come on down kid." So I went down into the makeup room where they did the Wizard of Oz, The Seven Faces of Doctor Lao and The Twilight Zone - and I felt like I was in heaven. Anyway, inside was a kind, well-spoken middle-aged man. I opened my makeup case - it was one of those huge accordion-type boxes - and I had all the RCMA products on display. He turned around and bought everything! Everything! Bought the whole line! And I thought, "Wow, that was a great sale ......
About two years later, a friend of mine calls and says, "Guess who's got a line of makeup now and it's really great?" and I said "Who?" and he said "Bill Tuttle!" He told me the line is very similar to Factor but it incorporates a lot of the high pigmentation that RCMA uses. And I can't help but think that perhaps, when I went in and sold Mr. Tuttle that entire line of makeup, just maybe it might have instilled in him the desire to create his own line - which is one of the most well-thought-of lines of makeup that exist in the entertainment industry today.
After RCMA I began working as a cosmetic apprentice with the Ben Nye Company. Nye was head of the 20th Century Fox makeup department for many years, and was, in his own right, a consummate cosmetic chemist: All of the makeup that was used at 20th Century Fox was actually made right there on the lot. I used his products for quite some time as well.
While I was working for Ben Nye Company I started to work in the movie business as a makeup artist, and did all of the special makeup effects that you see today in these horror films-the rubber effects and whatnot - and then went into television and began doing a lot of beauty makeup. And so my career progressed.
"I feel that as a makeup artist you should know more than just one product line, because you're going to work with a lot of performers who have personal likes and dislikes."
You've experienced such an exciting era of the entertainment business. You must have a stockpile of stories.
Here's a funny story: You know I'm running my school in Hollywood now, and I've redone the entire school. Part of what I've been trying to do is to bring in experienced people from the industry to train students, and so I've been calling around and inviting people to come in to teach, using their own products. I really feel that as a makeup artist you should know more than just one line, because when you work out in the industry you're going to work with a lot of performers who have personal likes and dislikes, and they're going to ask you for this or for that. So my students are taught with everything. When I called Bill (Tuttle) and told him I'd like to have him give a lecture using his products, he graciously said he'd think about it. Well, I couldn't resist and I said to him, "Bill, do you remember, about 35 years ago, a skinny snot-nosed boy who came into your makeup studio at MGM and sold you the entire line of RCMA makeup?" He said, "Yeah, I remember that boy. Sure! He sold me the whole line of RCMA, and that's a good line of makeup." I said, "Bill, I'm that boy." It was one of those wonderful moments.
That's really up there with another moment that I experienced. In addition to Ben Nye Sr., who was a wonderful man and a great artist, I had another great teacher named George Bau. His brother, Gordon Bau, was the head of makeup at Warner Brothers, and George was the head of the prosthetics laboratory. He was actually the man who more or less invented the foam rubber that we use today for special makeup effects and prosthetics.
I was working on one of my first films in which I had to age a woman using all facial prosthetic appliances; at the same time I was working as a lab apprentice with Ben Nye. Well, I was making my makeup for this film at Ben's lab, and then in the evenings I would go over to George Bau's house and foam my prosthetic appliances.
When I finished the sculptures, I wanted to show Ben and George. But I didn't want to move the sculptures because they were so huge and fragile. I called George and asked him to come over at 6 o'clock, and then I called Ben - I figured I'd give them a half-hour berth - and asked him to come over around 6:30. George shows up at 6, and he comes in and looks at the sculptures, and he says, "Yeah, yeah, okay kid, you can sculpt ... you got a future in the business," and he's looking over the stuff and giving me some pointers, and I forgot that Ben was coming over. I started really getting into this, and then there's a knock on the door, and there's Ben. I said, "Hey, come on in." Now, I lived in a small, one- bedroom apartment - you'd never know that anybody lived there: The walls were covered with head casts and posters of monsters, there was a barber chair in the middle of the living room and the entire kitchen was a prosthetics laboratory - I cooked all my foam-rubber appliances and molds in the oven. I was a real freak. So, I brought Ben, back to the kitchen, and I introduced them. And suddenly at that moment I realized, "Oh my god, here's the head of makeup at 20th Century Fox, and this other fellow is the head of the laboratory at Warner Brothers.
They looked at each other: Ben leaned on his cane, looking at George, and George quietly looked back. There were about 15 seconds of silence, and all of a sudden I thought, "Oh my god, maybe they don't like each other!" And then Ben extended his hand, and so did George. Ben said, "Isn't this something ... after all these years, we've never met until this moment; " It was truly a historic moment.
You're a walking piece of history!
I remember another funny incident from the early years: I was sanding some molds for a film, and the sander that I was using ripped off my thumbnail. I had finished all of the heads for the transformation scene - it was a film called Track of the Moon Beast, in which I had to turn a man into a Komodo lizard. We had a scene that went into a close-up and showed him gradually transforming. Well, I had finished everything except the hands and the feet. But being unable to finish the job, I called my friend John Chambers, who did the makeup for Planet of the Apes, and asked if he knew anyone who could finish the job for me. He said, "Yeah, there's this new kid, I haven't used him yet but everybody says he's really good. You might give him a try." I said "Okay, what's his name?" He said, "Rick Baker." So I called Rick, and he came over and finished the job - it was probably one of his first films. And his hair today is just as long as it was then! Baker has won more Academy Awards for makeup than anyone ever dreamt could be won. (Ed. note: Most recently, Baker received an Academy Award for his makeup artistry for Men in Black.)
You have retail outlets all over the world. What sort of training program do you have to ensure your products are presented and marketed with your chosen standard of quality?
I insist that my sales reps have, before anything, a thorough knowledge of makeup application. I put them through a grueling program to teach them the intricacies of every aspect of makeup artistry.
When one of my sales reps comes to your store, he or she is able to answer any question you throw at them. I also stress service. When I was a makeup artist, I always appreciated salespeople who would listen to me and honestly care about the information they were giving me. You can always sense when somebody's telling you the truth, or when they're just trying to sell you. I absolutely will not permit my salepeople to sell makeup just to stock up shelves, because it doesn't do me any good having my products just filling up shelf space and not being sold. It's important to handle sales with honesty, integrity and care. You never go wrong that way. So it's a matter of having a good product and hiring reps who share my goals.
Any merchandising tips for store owners?
Know your client base; don't order products that you know you're not going to be able to sell. And don't allow your shelves to go bare before you order. Write up an order - even if you scratch it down on a piece of paper - find the fax number to the order desk and fax it to us! Don't wait for someone to come around and service the account all the time, because it may be awhile before that rep can come around to you. And you shouldn't use a rep as a crutch - use a rep only to answer questions or to help you out whenever you really find yourself in a pinch.
You have two training centers- one in Hollywood, California, and one in Orlando, Florida. What types of makeup artistry do your schools teach?
We teach the same curriculum at both schools, and we offer courses and programs that teach absolutely all phases of makeup artistry, from the simplest, natural makeup to the most complex, prosthetic, mechanical character makeup.
How did your school start?
I fancy myself as the forerunner of the professional makeup school. There was a tiny little school back in '66, '67 - and it still exists today - that was advertised as a makeup school but it really wasn't; it was a salon where women could learn how to put on their makeup. I saw their ad in the paper and went there and said, "You know you guys are really missing the boat. I'm a professional makeup artist and I could put together a curriculum for you - and subsequently a school - that would be the first of its kind in the world." Well they hired me, and that became the first professional school for film and television makeup. Of course, there were colleges and universities that had been teaching what they called professional makeup for eons, but these were drama teachers who were really just teaching theatrical makeup.
Thank you so much for taking the time today to share all your wonderful stories. Any final comments?
Joe Blasco wishes to thank Lisa Randazzo and the publisher and staff of Beauty Store Business Magazine for the wonderful work in composing the original article which the contents of this article was based upon and slightly edited for updating.
Joe Blasco Cosmetics is currently compounding special body makeup for the soon to be released new Flinstones film 'Viva Rock Vegas' Heading the team of top makeup professionals is Christina Smith. This film will feature a wide variety of very innovative and fascinating character and special make-up effects created by Matthew Mungle. Mr. Mungle, who also lectures at the Joe Blasco Make-up Center in Hollywood, was the first recipient of the, "Makeup Recognition award," which is bestowed to Joe Blasco Graduates who have demonstrated great talent and achievement in their art. At the ceremony, which was conducted during the Joe Blasco Makeup Center's 21st anniversary, Mr. Mungle's, "Hand prints" were cast in stone and placed in the newly remodeled Hollywood School's Makeup Museum.
Since Late September 1997, Joe Blasco has completely restaffed, remodeled and expanded the Joe Blasco Makeup Artist Training center in Hollywood, redesigned and expanded his line of cosmetics (which debuts worldwide during mid July and August 1999) and in Miami Beach, has just opened the first of seven national Joe Blasco Cosmetics centers! This center is a makeup store, a makeup salon, and an instructional facility which features advanced makeup lectures and demonstrations on all phases of professional makeup artistry. The new seminar system, which each of these centers will offer, is Mr. Blasco's next stop in the process of advancing the evolution of makeup education. Each center features very comprehensive seminars conducted by top entertainment and makeup industry professionals.
The new system permits individuals to experience the most important phases of makeup artistry in a fast and easy to understand three-day and five-day intensive seminar, which is designed for the enrichment of knowledge and the continued higher education of makeup professionals.
Newcomers to the field will also greatly benefit from these very intensive seminars. Attendees will be eligible for a partial scholarship at either our Hollywood or Orlando facility! The amount paid to attend the seminar will be automatically deducted from the tuition at either our West Coast or East Coast Makeup Artist Training facilities. In addition, graduates from our formal training centers will be eligible to attend the seminars at a reduced rate as well!
For information concerning Joe Blasco products, the Joe Blasco Cosmetics Center (now open in Miami Beach!) and/or the Joe Blasco Makeup Artist Training Centers please call 1(800) 553-1520.